Monday, October 31, 2011

574 - I Wanted to Sing

Laisa and I had only seen the water room as a bathing room before, not a birthing room.  I poked Laisa and nodded toward Kallijas who was uncomfortable being in the same room as Niku while the birth was going on.  He wanted so much to be properly guarding.  Laisa put her fan up over her fond smile. 

Skorsas whispered in his ear and he answered just as quietly.  I didn’t hear what was said but he seemed happier.

It was so strange.  There were evergreen garlands all around. The air was perfumed with lavender flowers and the evergreens, all the different varieties, each with their own sharpness.  The whole family was there.  How could they let all the children in?  They could see their mother or their sibling die during the birth.  I cooled my face with my fan and reminded myself that foreign women didn’t have the same danger that Arkan women had.  

It was the children being there that brought up my fear.  My stomach was clenched, thinking of how many deaths there were in Arkan birthing rooms and I had to calm myself, thinking that was before… before women’s purifications were eased.

We were sitting near the robe racks and closets, on a lovely little bench where we might be out of the way.  Kallijas was by the door, as good a compromise between being in the room and being outside guarding as might be achieved.  

The scented steaminess was welcome after the dry, powdery, snowy cold outside.  It was wonderfully like home, but wetter, heavier, the air full of water like the thickest of summer. The snow was barely visible as washes of colour against the windows, through the inside mist.  I felt like a tea-flower expanding in a glass bowl.

The children were in the cool pool giggling and laughing, and Niku… she was actually sitting on Shefenga… Virani-e I should remember now… in the warm pool.  It was too warm in here for my full gown and Laisa had a dew of perspiration on her face. We both did, despite our fans.  They were all laughing now, over some joke.  It was so strange… so good.

There were tapestries everywhere showing the most shocking things… mother’s legs spread open – was that what an uncut woman really looked like? -- and babies being born… right there in front of everyone.  I almost couldn't look but I also couldn't look away.

“I don’t think anyone would mind if we shed our overdresses,” Laisa said to me, quietly.  I shook my head and then asked Shaina who stood near us.

“No, not at all,” she said to us, in Enchian, then switched to a simple Arkan.  “No one minds.”  I liked Shaina.  Last time we were here she and Shef –Virana-e’s mother Karani went out of their ways to make Laisa and I feel welcome.

One of Niku’s friends… Baska started chanting ‘Vai Vai’ and something else that I didn’t make out, as if to encourage either her friend or the babies.

“Thank you, Shaina.  I’m so glad we could be here.  Everyone is so happy.”  Her smile lit up her whole face.

“Do you need some help?” Her Arkan really was very good.

“Thank you.”

At least our dresses were lighter than full court garb used to be and we no longer needed to be sewn into them.  We were able to unpick a few threads and slide out of the overdresses.  Laisa was used to the less elaborate sola’s dresses and we both were wearing Riala’s.  An enormous relief in the steamy heat.

“This is so wonderful,” I said to Shaina.  “Happy not frightened.”

“Wait…”  The woman with Niku… the midwife I assumed… slid into the water and Kaninjer stood behind as Niku made some astonishing sounds… a lot louder than Inensa had made, but then Niah are more open than Arkans, much less Mahid.

“Oh, are the babies being born?”

Laisa and I clasped our hands together, standing up at the back.  The children were hushed, watching.  People clustered but far enough back to leave the healer and the midwife room.

“IN the water?”  Laisa and I asked each other.  “Why… how? Won’t the child drown?”

“Yes, in the water,” Skorsas said without looking back at us.  “It’s the aNiah way…. well they usually do this in the sea.”

“Oh.  How…”  How nice how interesting how gross, I couldn’t, wouldn’t say any such things, but there was a fighting yell from Niku and the midwife said something I assume was ‘got you!’  I could see between Kaninjer and Tawaen who had come in sometime after we had.

Laisa and I clung to each other with excitement, arms wound together. “Oh Selinae ease her, help her…” “Dimae… hunt her pain down…” The baby had a loud voice, crying strong.  Was it healthy?  Was it a boy? Was it a girl?

“Cut the cord, Tawaen,” the midwife told the boy.  How could they make the boy do that?”  But Kima tied the cut cord off and the Haian healer accepted the baby to do his checks.  Both Niku and Virana-e said some things to the baby, one in Niah, one in Yeoli, but I only understood the Yeoli.

“Strength, my little one –“ but he cut himself off for some reason.

I couldn’t see into the water from the angle we were, but the thought of floating in warm water with my husband’s arms around me… how shocking… how… intriguing.  Would it be easier in water, even eased so I wouldn’t be in danger of bleeding out?

The second birth seemed to be going faster and the children argued over which sex of child they wanted, as if that would change anything.  Niku and Virana-e were laughing between her surges.  The mood in the room was very wild and I found myself wanting to sing it was so exultant.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

573 - We Thought We'd Surprise You

It was cold enough to make my teeth ache as we descended to Vae Arahi. The snow completely whitened the mountainside, except for the stark, wet grey and black and white cliffs and some of the erratic stones.  The lake was white, was it frozen over?  There were dark patches broken all around the mystic’s island where Chevenga was… or perhaps had been?  Was he still there?

The snow all around the village was marked up and flattened… especially over the field given to Diyadesai’s crazy students and researchers.  I could see the dark fuzz of crowd already gathering around the Assembly Palace.

Laisa was whooping in a most improper way, but Kyriala was answering her.  Kallijas… was not, but I drew a lungful of icy air into my lungs and ululated at them as we spiraled down to land on the Hearthstone Independent roof.

I saw Tawaen and Makaina waving as we circled down.  They were all in on the secret of us arriving for the referendum announcement, except for Chevenga.

"Hi, Kall!  Minis!  You made it in time!  Great!"

Once down we unharnessed and the Hearthstone security helped pack up our wings.  "Your rooms are ready," Makaina said.  "Same as last time."

"I'm keeping a watch for dad," he said.  "I'm keeping an eye on the referendum wingers."  They were coming in in waves on the wind, their wings bright with the Yeola-e colours. Skorsas sent his hellos. "The babies are being born -- they're all in the water room.”

Kallijas was gone so quickly I swear the air fell into the space he left behind himelf.  "You're lucky," Tawaen said.  "Dad was on the island till today, and the flyers had to do some mad flying work to get him.  They're all crazy.  I want to try it."

"Really? Something crazy that lets someone get picked up by a flyer?  I want to try it too."

"It's not a necessary risk," Kyriala said.  "Not like relaying."

Laisa laughed.  "But I want to try new flying things."

"Of course you want to," I said.  These two women are mad risk takers.  I just don't understand them a lot of time.

I offered my elbows to both of them.  “Serinae, I am at your disposal for escort.” They'd taken their flying goggles off, slung around both their necks and I could tell they were smiling, the way their eyes crinkled over the soft leather face masks still up against the cold.

They both wanted to change out of flying leathers into their ‘visiting’ court clothes and I did too, so we went down to the rooms they’d given us and Tawaen and Makaina walked us down.  

I felt frozen and in the Hearthstone the water was always lovely and warm no matter how icy it was outside and was marvellous on my face.  Even in the high-sky gloves my hands had gotten stiff from cold.

All my robes were Skorsas-designed so could be rolled and crammed into a flying pack and be shaken out without a crease out of place.

Thankfully my dressing was simplified because of us needing to carry everything on the wing. I slipped into my silks, the long red and gold robe for this freezing country.  I loved being here, though. I'd always felt very welcome.

"Minis!!!" Tawaen knocked and came in just as I was adjusting my collar.  His smile was bright.  Everything seemed to be going well. "My new sibs aren't quite born yet... how are you doing?"

"All ready to surprise your father, once he's not in the middle of becoming more of a father.  He's outside the water room?"

"No, no, he's in with Niku.  She'll be holding on to him."  I blinked and realized that of course he'd be in with the women.  Yeolis and Niahs didn't set the men outside.

“If there’s anything you all need just let me know.”

“Sure, Tawaen.  I don't need any help, thanks. When is the final count for the referendum?”

“Later today is the last,” he said.  "I'm just checking again for Dad."

"We'll head down to Assembly Palace, I don't need to drag you away from the birth."

"It'll probably be just you walking down.  Ky and Laisa went in to the birthing and they don't look like they want to leave."

"Oh.  Well.  Um... of course. Thanks for letting me know."  Ky and Laisa?  Well, birthing is women's business...

"Not a problem, Minis.  I'll see you down there tonight.  I want to see dad's face when he sees you here too."

I had to laugh.  "Thanks, Tawaen."

With Kallijas and Laisa and Kyriala in with Chevenga and Niku I headed down to the Assembly Palace, with my security.  I walked down the mountain along the roughened stone path, stopping to take in the view and letting my breath catch up with me, my heart pounding in our chest.

I and my security joined the crowd, the party, waiting for the final referendum votes brought in by wing.  To be honest if Chevenga thinks Yeolis wouldn't want him after the mental health assessments and things that Surya took him through...  Well, he doubts his own strength sometimes.

I was reminded of election night in Arko. But here, with light snow falling, the bonfires outside were very welcome and someone had swept the square clear. The atmosphere was charged as before thunderstorm and the crowd grew as we waited. 

Someone cheered and pointed out two banners unfurling, flying from the top of the Hearthstone Independent.  "A boy and a girl both!" Someone said.  "Congratulations, Chevenga!” Someone else smirked and said “The two of them could repopulate half of Yeola-e by themselves!” His husband smacked him on the shoulder for being rude. 

Then from the Hearthstone path there was a flurry of activity.  The sleigh that came down was loaded with the family including Niku, bundled in some kind of spotted furs, in it. Chevenga had his arm around her.  They both had a well-wrapped bundle on both their laps.  He had a head-splitting wide grin on his face.  She was smiling but looked tired.

I made my way to where they and Ky and Laisa and Kall and everyone were arriving.  Niku might have looked very tired but she had the same kind of peaceful glow on her that my mother had had after giving birth to my little sister.

“Ch’venga!!!”  I threw my arms wide.  “I'm here too!  We thought we'd surprise you!”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A couple of days off

I have to take a couple of days off... my apologies, I'll try to get my head together again for tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

572 - Below Stairs Again

Erelas sank down on the bench at the stove end of the servant’s table in the night kitchen.  “Phew.  I’m done for today.  What’s on the hob, Kataina?”

The cook, prepping vegetables to go into ice-water for the next day, carefully drawing thin, wide, long curls off orange roots with her paring knife, looked up.  “Cold roast meats, leftover.  My famous leftover beef stew with Niah earth apples and orange root.  Eight-fruit salad.  Soups, chilled melon or hot pepper mutton.”

“Thank you, blessed maker of food!  Mutton, still?  There’s not many Yeolis left in the Marble Palace to cater to.”

“Enough people like it.  So, what’s the word, Erelas?  Has our young Sparkle asked her yet?  I’ve got a copper chain on this moon.”

“No.  No change.  And why are you interested in that pool?  The hot chains are on when Blusher will be bowing to Fighter Girl.” Erelas leaned back and nodded at the pot boy who offered the chilled soup and the cold, sliced beef.

“Well, I thought that since he was over at her hoity-toity art opening Sparkles might ask Rosie tonight.”  She finished the last root, clapped the lid on and handed it off to another apprentice to carry away.  She sat down herself in a way that would have scandalized half of Arko when she swapped her dirty gloves for a fresh pair right in front of him.  Kaf cups materialized on the table for both of the senior servants.

“Good lads, thank you.  Finish up your jobs and head to bed.  Night shift is already on, hurry on now,”  The kaf was heavily cut with cream this late at night.

“No.” Erelas swept up the last bit of soup with a heel of bread held neatly on the end of his fork.  “He’s looking for the perfect time.  This is her night and he wouldn’t jump all over it like that.  I’m betting that Blusher asks first, then we’ll be in the middle of Regent Imperator wedding preparation and he’ll wait some more.”

“They’re off to Yeola-e again.  Maybe he’d ask her there.”

“If it were perfect, maybe but they’re both such city folk.”  Kataina grinned at Erelas who smiled back.  She was from the city.  He was the country boy.  “Actually things may come together, at one of the parties coming up.”

“What, one of those scandalous swimming ones?  Or are we going to have a Mammoka in the Selestial Hall again?”

“It was only a little one.  A gift from Mil Torii Itzan.”

“That was little?  My silver-haired, multi-clutching Goddess.”  Kataina mock swooned and then went to fetch herself a pastry from the bin of discards.  “You want something sweet to finish that off with?”

“Any Anga-o fruit pastries?”

“You are completely shameless over those.  I’ll have to tell the pastry chefs that any ‘accidentally burned’ ones should come right over here.  Here you are.  One left.”

Erelas closed his eyes as he bit into the Srian pastry, drizzled with Niah chocolate and powdered sugar from Laka.  “Mmmmm.  Feed Sparky more of these.  They’ll get him going.”

“I think that Roamer Girl and Not Raikas will have something to do with Sparky's asking.  My guess is that Roamer will grab him by the collar and tell him he’s going to lose Rosie if he doesn’t do something soon.”

“You think so?  He’d lose her?”

“No.  Speaking as a girl, she looks at him like that and they’ll be a pair.  He just doesn’t realize it yet.”

“Feminine wiles.”

Kataina snorted.  “Young male denseness.  No wonder youngsters need adults to arrange things.”

“Hah.  Don’t say that too loudly.  Antras’s daughter is at marriage age.”  Erelas leapt to his feet and snatched at what appeared to be part of the wall.  “Ha!  Got you, you sneaker!”

Jia, plucked from the marble, hung disconsolately from Erelas’s gloved hand, tentacles trailing down toward the kitchen desk.  “For some reason this one has been stealing lists lately.  Recipes.  Bits of paper with parts of notes out of waste baskets. I’ve found them all in Sparky’s jewelry case.”

The domestic octopus cheeped forlornly.  “Oh, don’t be so harsh on the poor thing. He probably thought it was something good he was doing.”

Erelas harrumphed and dropped Jia onto the servant’s table with a slap. “Silly thing.”

“Let me get you a treat,” Kataina addressed Jia who went from a depressed whitish gray to a bright pink as he recognized the word ‘treat’.  “I have some cockles from the fishmonger that didn’t get used today.  By tomorrow they’ll be off, so someone should eat a few.”

“You’ll spoil him completely.” Erelas swallowed the last of his kaf and got to his feet“’night, Kataina.  Hope you win your bet.”

“Goddess night to you, Erelas.”


Monday, October 24, 2011

571 - She's Good at Keeping Secrets

Kyriala’s exhibition of her and her friends' tapestry works was a day before Kallijas and I were to do the Solstice Ritual, and three days before we were all slated to leave to be at the Yeoli referendum over whether they wanted Chevenga as semanakraseye after all his problems.

Personally I thought he would be happy either way.  If they didn’t want him, he’d be able to retire with honour and not have to worry about the whole Earthsphere coming apart if he did.  If they did want him, he’d dive back into being what he loved.  The referendum was around the time he’d be coming out of seclusion after his dramatic asa kraya ceremony, so I assumed we would see him.  He was likely to still be on that island, but I was sure they’d paddle him across the lake for that.  It was important.

Ky’s salon was crowded, with every woman of the Fortunate Fifty there… and Dyers and writers and a cadre of young men who obviously realized that getting to know mothers was vitally important for their marriage chances in the new Arko.  The Fenjitzas and the Fenjitza were both there.  And I saw Priest Itasas across the main ballroom.

She’d had to use the ballroom and the garden beyond, because the rumours of it had been circulating for the past two moons.  Minister Rafas was there and Assemblymen Ruantras Kolimnas, Tzimin Definas and Intharas Tahilas.  I was slated to have lunch with Tahilas and his family tomorrow after the ritual.

Ky had her tapestries set up in one room… the small ones.  And the darkened corridor for her Tunnel piece set up with groups of people to view being guided through.  People blushed and stammered and laughed nervously taking their gloves off to feel their way through, but still lined up to do so.

I laved my hands with everyone else in my group, Fish and Cream and Dub and Serina Irian.  A black curtain just a step inside the door blocked the light of the door opening and closing.

The tapestry must have covered both walls and the ceiling, since there were no echoes, but distantly I could hear someone tapping, as if on the bars in the Tunnel walls, a canary sang half way through… probably the one I’d given her. In the distance, as well, I could hear water rushing.  It smelled… like the Tunnel.  I don’t know how she did it.

Stone and iron and the mountain, the faint staleness and human beings.  Serina Irian coughed as the door closed behind us and shut us in the darkness.  “Oh, is it this foul?  Ew.”

“Please do not stop, Sers and Serina,” our guide said, in the exact cadence of the Tunnel guides.  “To not interfere with the party behind.”

“Serina,” I said.  “This is very mild but the breeze blowing through here is milder as well.”

“Well, I just refuse to ever travel so!”  She sniffed.

Ky had caught the dark.  She had caught the essence of the whole thing and as I put my hand out I swore I could feel the seams of stone woven into it.  When we came out the other end, we even reacted a bit like people did, coming out of the Tunnel.  Laughing.  Serian Irian began weeping just a bit.  Cream made a fart joke and all of us howling far more than the witticism deserved dried up her tears fast enough with disapproval.

I put my gloves on and accepted a glass of wine from the servant standing by the exit.  Also reminiscent of the true Tunnel crossing.  I was quietly trembling for a good tenth afterwards, it affected me so, so I spent most of that time quietly watching, and looking at other works in the display.

The new art exhibition also had several rooms of other artists, including Riala and Skala and others. I wouldn’t have thought of Riala’s pieces as ‘art’ exactly.  It started with a ragged classical Aitza’s dress and she said it was the one she had been wearing when the sack happened.  I had to set my plate aside because the rusty brown stains on it were not paint. The next four dresses were variations on Haian nursing gowns she had made for herself, representing her healing… then a half mended grey and black lace dress.  The gowns were hung all the way around the room until her current clothing designs were prominent, the Sack Dress and the gold and red Firebird dress bracketed the door.  I preferred starting with the ruin and proceeding to the rebirth but some people were circling her works in both directions.

I gave every one careful attention and then went to have a glass of wine and a pipe because my gut was in an uproar.  The fact that she would have the courage to begin her art journey piece with a dress stained with her own blood was enough to make me both sick for her and a little nervous of her.

“What do you think?”  Ky came up behind me, with her glass and plate.  She wore a silk trouser-gown in a very bright blue, with a dark blue pattern worked into the fabric, somehow a complement to my white and blue kilt and shirt. She had a white feather fan, with silver spars and her hair was twist-braided with blue and white glass beads all through.

“I was overwhelmed with the Tunnel.  You captured it so well I shook for a while afterwards.”

She smiled at me bright enough to put fizz in my wine.  “You did?”

“Truly.  Was that the canary I sent you?”

“Yes, it is.  Have you seen the rest of the show?”

“Mostly.  There’s one or two rooms where I avoided the worst of the crush. I think… Riala has more guts than most male artists in the city… except the famous and elusive ‘Banaksias’.”  I didn’t understand her smile this time.  It was more secretive.

“Why do you think Banaksias is male?”

I swallowed my wine a little too abruptly.  “Oh.  Well.  Um.  I suppose you’re right.”  I’d never thought otherwise, and just assumed.

“Since you say you’ve missed some rooms you just have to see this one. Come over here.”  She led me to a room that was completely crowded with people and I had avoided it, taking one look at the sea of heads and deciding I’d wait till later.  The glimpse of the walls had been intriguing but not enough to make me take my security into the midst of such close quarters. Idiesas had a couple of strapping young men from the elite at my back.  The room was a bit more empty now.

Ky led me into the middle and my jaw dropped.  It was Banaksias’s work.  All of it.  Walls, ceilings, floor-edges, door frames.  The crowd milled in the middle of it all trying not to erase the chalk.  There were angels drawn as if they were of every race on the Earthsphere all over the ceiling, at one point the very idea would have been blasphemy, that Selestialis’s messengers could be anything but Arkan blond and pale skin and blue eyes.

There was a golden tree under assault by devils on one wall, and all of the devils were blond.  Nothing obvious there.  Rats with greedy men’s faces adorned the floor or joined the demons, either helping them or chewing on naked red tails, or devouring their own till they were turned into little wheels.

I had never thought I’d see blond crows or hawks with curly hair, the winged creatures taking part in the struggle.  And a very different Arko spread on the walls on either side of the tree, the buildings were familiar landmarks but built out of Arkan bodies.

“How on the Earth..?  How do you know Banaksias?”

She smiled quietly.  “That’s the same question all the writers are asking me.  My brother has given permission for the show to be open to the public next week.  He’s agreed to hire watchers so that nothing gets stolen or broken, and Minister Rafas kind enough to say he would notify the Sereniteer patrols in this part of the city.”

“You are going to have most of the city come pouring through here to see this! But you never answered my question.” Forzak, she’s good at keeping secrets!

She smiled wider and accepted a hot chocolate bun from a servant.  “I know.”


Announcing the first ever Fan written piece of fiction for Eclipse Court!  Enjoy!


A Jiaklem Adventure
by Dave Kirby

The words were important; he knew they were. Words he could understand, and he knew the funny marks on the paper were words, somehow. The marks meant words, in the silent language, and they were IMPORTANT! His people should see these Important Word Marks; they would know what to do. Especially the smart one, his friend’s podmate. Or maybe the quick, bouncy one. That one had an Important Place. Yes, the Important Word Marks should go in the Important Place.

Decision made, Jia started forward, than stopped. He would have to be careful; the others would try to stop him. If they saw him, they would trap him, capture him, hold him, TANK HIM! Jia quivered in place, torn between fear and loyalty, DUTY, to his friends. They should know about the Important Word Marks. He would be careful, and not get caught, and take the Important Word Marks to his friends. Maybe he would get shrimp! He liked shrimp.

He made himself look like the wall, the part over in the corner, by the tapestry, and carefully inched his way up. He stopped where the tapestry ended and carefully looked for movement. He couldn't see much, but more importantly it was quiet. He eased up the rest of the wall to the ceiling, and recoloured to match.

One of the Others came into the room, clattering and banging, moving things about. Jiaklem, master of disguise, stayed still in his shadowed corner of the ceiling, and wasn't seen. Eventually the noise and movement stopped, and Jia felt safe enough to continue on his vital mission. His luck held, and he swarmed down the wall as fast as he could, dropping the last little bit directly onto his prey. Holding the Important Word Marks carefully in one tentacle, he fairly leapt back up the wall, and squeezed into a grating disguised behind a decorative carving. The Important Word Marks gave him a bit of trouble, until he figured out how to trick them into fitting through the grate. The passage behind the grate might have been made just for him – it was just the right size for him to really move, his tentacles on all the surfaces, and he could go anywhere! This time he was going straight to his friends, though, so he could put the Important Word Marks in the Important Place. There was no time to lose!

There might be shrimp!


“Yes, love?”

“What the Hayel is Antras's shopping list doing in my jewellery case?”

“Dunno.  He was stomping around looking for it all morning...” 


By Dave Kirby

I'm tempted to call it 'There Might Be Shrimp" but that would give so much away.

Friday, October 21, 2011

570 - I Can't Sleep

I couldn’t sleep and snuck into Minis’s room but there was Gan and Farasha sleeping and Minis wasn’t there, so I was really quiet and sat out in the front sitting room with Jia and Altras and Bella all of us in a pile on the big chaise.  Antras came in and asked me if I wanted Kaita or anything else and I asked him if he could get me a big glass of goat milk, since I found out I liked it better than cow milk.

I was starting to get sleepy when Bella’s head came up and she trotted out of the room, squeezing her big fat butt through the tiny cat-door. I heard the guard down the hallway say good evening to Minis.  That must be what Bella heard; my brother coming in.  I sat up straight and Altras complained and moaned and Jia cheeped.

“Ilesias Aan, what are you doing up so late and in my rooms?”  He looked… funny sort of.  Like he got smoothed out somehow.

“Waiting for you.  Couldn’t sleep.”

“Oh, Ili, don’t you feel all right? I can call for Akminchaer.”

“I feel fine, you don't need to call him.”  He sat down and we all kind of crawled into his lap and he laughed and wrapped his arms around us as best he could.  “I just wanted to talk to you.  You’re so busy and I’m so busy now we don’t have time to talk anymore.”

His arms tightened around me and I buried my face in his stomach, even though I was too big for that.  “I’m sorry about that, little brother.”

“I know we both have a lot to do, because you were elected and saved us from getting killed.  And because Arko wants you for the Crystal Throne.”  I knew it, but I didn’t have to like it, even if I was mostly comfortable being in the Marble Palace now.  I wasn’t having a lot of nightmares any longer but sometimes I’d be somewhere and start shaking and sweating and getting scared even if I couldn’t remember why.  Akminchaer and Kaita and Tanifas told me that it was probably memories that only my body held onto and that made sense to me.

“You know I still love you, little brother, even if we can’t be together so much?”

“I know that!  You’re silly if you think I don’t know that.  I’m smarter than you think.”

“I’m sorry, Ili, I didn’t mean to imply that you were less than intelligent.”

“Apology accepted.  Where were you so late?”

“I was talking to the Fenjitzas.” I sat up and raked my hair out of my face.  I’d taken my braid out and my hair was everywhere.  His eyes were full of lightness and happiness.  “He’s… a holy man.”  I felt like I should be quiet and listen, instead of talking so I pinched my lips shut.  “He... well, he makes me laugh.”


“Shhhh!  You’ll wake everyone up!”  Sometimes I wondered if Jia understood Arkan, because he grabbed me around the mouth with a couple of his tentacles.  But I wasn’t that loud and there was a snort and a snore from the bedroom.  And my brother didn’t look angry.  He smiled.  “I think I’m going to have a lot of fun talking about the Ten with him.”

“Hunh. Good.  Hey, Minis, my music master says I have a talent.”  I yawned and lay down again on his chest.

“I’m glad to hear that.  Why don’t I lie down with you and when you fall asleep, we can tuck you back into your own bed?”

“Yes, please.”  He shoved a space in the animals and they wiggled around so we could all lie down together and Minis was tireder… more tired than he was showing.  He held me in a way that was heavy like he’s falling asleep too.  I liked that and snuggled in.  “Night Minis.”

“G’night little brother.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

569 - But I'm Not!

The Fenjitzas, now that I had sat back and actually recovered my balance a bit, I would never have recognized.  I’d only seen him in his full priestly regalia that glittered enough to nearly blind someone if he were standing in the sun.

Here in the golden, late-night lighting of the Temple he had his hair tied up tight and wore nothing but kilt and gloves.  He was even barefoot.  I saw he had some scars.  Perhaps he fought as a field-priest of Aras when he was young?  The oddest scar I could see on him was a ring of proud flesh around one thigh, just above his knee, that looked as though one of Grandfather’s gigantic yellow-legged worms had wrapped around and dug into the skin.

“Radas…”  I just had to ask.  “I know about this humility before the Ten kind of thing… but why… scrubbing the floor on hands and knees?”  I wasn’t sure exactly what I was asking.

“You mean why am I doing this in the middle of the night instead of where others can see?  Why don’t we go back to somewhere a trifle more private and have a cup of chocolate?”  He got up and I picked up his bucket and waited for him to show me where to dump it.  “Over behind that carved screen.”  I carted the bucket over and dumped it into the floor drain.  “Just leave the bucket there, please.”

He showed me to a room off to one side of the main Temple Hall, the door and the handle hidden in the elaborate carvings.  The room itself was small and lined with honeywood.  There were a few plain red cotton cushions on the floor and a Presence light and that was all.  “To answer your question,” he said as he sat down, nodding at the seat opposite him.  “I… am more comfortable scrubbing floors at night.  It is my pride, you see.”

“Your pride?  How do you mean?  How is hiding your humility, pride?”

“Ha!  Well I am personally torn two ways.  First of all, if I did the humble work before a crowd of people it would almost be like standing up and bellowing ‘LOOK HOW HUMBLE I AM!”, which is anything but.  I had too many superiors who attempted to teach their congregations how to be humble by parading their arrogance in this reverse way.”  A soft knock at the door and a Temple novice entered at his word, set a tray down for us and bowed his… no… her way out.  The Fenjitzas wasn’t served exclusively by boys any longer?  He nodded at me to choose a cup and took up the other, sipping quietly, then smacking his lips with satisfaction.  “That’s not humility, that’s arrogance.  Of course there is the other reason, which IS my pride.  I feel shame sometimes doing menial work and that shame is a very old teaching for me.  What if anyone should actually see me doing THIS?”  His smile was still clear.

“But you’re the Fenjitzas… how can you still be struggling with things like that?”  I was almost affronted. Wasn’t he supposed to be the wise one?  Why tell me that?  I… deflated.  In the face of his smile my emotional reaction just splashed against it and sublimated into the silence.  Oh.  The room was silent.  It cut out all sound from outside, the choir, the Tempilion, the murmured occasional prayer or tear or laugh.  I hadn’t noticed before. 

“You struggle with it until you realize that the one you are struggling with, is yourself.  Yourself, younger mostly.  And when you realize that, you realize why Mikas laughs so much.”  Rather than try and say anything I took a sip of chocolate, smooth and rich and sweet on my tongue.  Perhaps it was the sweetness that unlocked it and I found another question sliding out before I could censor it.

“So… which was it tonight?”

“Oh, neither,” he said and laughed very much like Sukala, but in deep men’s tones.  “You see, I’ve been doing it long enough that it no longer matters which emotion comes up, though they both do... they no longer matter.  I scrub when I feel the need and forget what other people think.” He chuckled again.  “I’ve not yet felt the need to scour the floor in the middle of any of the rites. So far my fellow priests have been spared the sight of me cleaning, in the God’s Presentation robes and mirrors.  I think the two lowest Gods and Mikas would all think it was perfectly hysterical if I did.”

“And Aras and Muunas?”

“Aras would probably be concerned about my discipline, which would make Mikas laugh harder… and the High God… He would know why I did it.”

“Um… and approve?”

“Who am I to beg approval of a God?  He will approve of me, or not, and I would prefer to be the kind of child of the Divine who doesn’t keep whining into his Parents’ ears.  Not that I always succeed, and often I must run to the Ten bearing the prayers of the congregation and the Empire.  In that sense I am Arko’s divine donkey.”

I nearly snorted chocolate through my nose.  “What?  You bear the people’s spiritual burdens to the Gods as if they were barrels of cooking fuel?”

“Exactly.  And sometimes they are as volatile and as inflammable as cooking fuel.  So tell me your experience of the Ten.”

This time I did choke on the liquid.  Did he plan that?  “Err… I really don’t remember much of what happened in the Imperial Chapel… I felt…”  I almost wanted to wave my hands in a frustrated, Yeoli way and twitched enough to almost slosh out of my cup.  I set it down.  “It is too big to describe in words… unless they are poetry and I am no poet…” He didn’t say anything but was leaving space for me to go on.  I’d hoped he would fill the silence with something, free me of the need to try and explain the unexplainable but he just sat and watched me.

I drew a deep breath and closed my eyes.  There was that space in my chest, that light feeling, perhaps…  I opened my mouth and what came out surprised me.  It was a single note… long drawn out and rising.  It ran around the inside of my head and was followed by a harmonic note.  Three or four more tones and then…

Words that flew like sparks and free dancing flames unfettered to the burning coal below poured out of my mouth.

 “All the words, all heard and sung and read…

Or tasted, drunk or smelled…

Sung to the living and the dead…

All things that flow from hands ungloved and gloved
From human hearts both innocent and wounded, scarred,

Are new conceptions: greatly loved.

And gifts:  glorious faint notes, shining flung

To singers oh so far away
That they can only hear the faintest thread of sound

Creation’s flames and in ceaseless dark abound

Eternal course of Selestial drink,
Pouring through us from God’s cup brink."

My eyes flew open and my hands up to my mouth as if to control them, to hide those odd words. Or perhaps catch them before they fled away into the air and were gone, like sparks going out once separated from the main fire. His eyes shone.  “Thank you for being the allusion of the Gods’ voice,” he said.

I panted as if I had just run a long race.  “But I’m not a poet!”  I wailed as if I was young as Ili.

He just nodded.  “That’s all right.  The Gods are.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

568 - My Heart was Riven

“Just Radas, please, Spark,” he said, settling down cross-legged on the tiles with me, completely heedless of the fact that we were sitting in the middle of the Temple floor, in the middle of the night, under the high God’s eye.

“If that’s the case then just Minis, for me,” I said to him and managed to wipe my face with the sodden handkerchief I had clutched in one fist and thrust it into one of my sleeve pockets.  The servants would probably hate me later.  “I’ve… had my father’s dekinas who was the single most boring individual alive, then I had 2nd Amitzas Mahid and the priest-trained Mahid – er, some encouragement from the Yeoli Imperator.  And I’ve met an odd old Yeoli woman sage on a mountain.”

“That sounds like you’ve gotten mostly pedantry and sophistry.”

I blinked at him, not sure what to say.  “I read a lot.”

He smiled at me.  He had a sweet smile.  “So I understand.  So, what do you feel, of the Ten?”

But… what?  What?  Um… well… but… “Errrr… well… um…”

He shook his head at me.  “I am too blunt.  My apologies, Minis.”

“No, no… in fact you almost remind me of the Yeoli sage.  But she was blunt enough to bruise one’s forehead on… or to bruise one’s ego on, I suppose.  I liked her.”

“She sounds like she knows herself very well.”  How did he know?  Did all God touched have access to their own private connection?  Now that I was just looking at Radas, he looked God touched and I had the urge to unburden my heart.

Fenjitzas… Radas… I don’t know how to talk to the Ten, I was taught so much fear… so much… I was convinced for the longest time that I was forzak no matter what I did… I grew to hate any teachings about the Gods and Goddesses…”  My voice trailed off in a disorganized mumble and I ended up looking at Muunas’s marble toe peeking out from under the flowing, open robe.

“Ah.  Are you upset with yourself because you are angry?  Many men in Arko are taught only fear and hate.  Of the Gods, of themselves.”

“The Regent and the Yeoli Imperator weren’t taught that fear of the Gods.  They were taught love of the Gods.”  I looked away from the statue at the scraping noise.

He’d pushed the bucket out of the way as he leaned forward to look into my eyes. I wasn’t sure what I saw in his eyes, so close.  They were almost dark blue with blue-white flecks in them.  We locked eyes and I wondered what he saw in mine.

He looked into my eyes  and I tried to keep my eyes open, for all that my heart shrank.  “I… Fen… Radas… the God… he told me… he said… I needed to be clear eye’d, to open my eyes to everything.”  I had to drop my gaze.  His was almost as bright as the God’s and my heart was riven. 

“You are sensitive to the Ten,” he said.  “I’m happy for you, and I’m sorry for you.”

My gaze snapped up from the fascinating tableau of my hands on the gold tile and his bare knees.  “You… um…thank you.”  He understands.  “Am I… are my dreams… real?”

“Of course they are real.”  He smiled.  “If you like, Minis, perhaps we can go through the Holy Book and talk about the Ten, just you and I?  Perhaps we can look at the crippled and hobbled versions of the Book you were taught and you might be interested in how I see the Gods, hmmm?”

“I… I…” I gulped.  “I’d like that.  Quite a lot.”

His hand came up to buffet me on the shoulder, rocking me where I knelt.  He had been solas.  Of course.  “Good lad.”