I picked up my pen to finish signing the latest stack of invitations and letters. It was late enough that Doof sat on the rail of my pen-rack with her head tucked between her hunched wings, fluffed almost into a ball. She rocked gently back and forth as she breathed.
Altras lay on my desk, his chin on the forearm of my writing hand, his purr made me take good care of my signing and he’d shift and yawn at me as I shifted pages out from underneath.
Bella lay on my feet, releasing the occasional sigh, or fart, though her diet was good enough that she never quite drove me away with the stench.
Kyriala’s writing board lay at my elbow written from the top of the page to the bottom with things that had to be either signed or approved, including a specific list from her grandmother and Laisa’s. Laisa was her bema and the two of them not only were creating these lists with Skorsas, the grandmothers and the Marble Palace staff, they were always sitting with their heads together giggling. There was nothing funny about any of this.
Farasha would just laugh when I complained to her and tell me “Don’t worry Minis, it’s just the typical wedding fever that your country requires of the women. It will pass.”
“So what kind of wedding fever do your people require?”
She quit smiling and looked a little worried. “There’s riding and sailing rituals...but you and Gan can do both so it should be all right.”
So she wasn’t immune. What was going to happen is that Kyriala and I would marry, and Farasha and Gannara would marry as a couple as well. Then Gan and I would do the alesinafiet. Farasha said she had no problem with being the Most Illustrious and Honourable First Concubine as long as I never ever tried to treat her like one. I’d blushed as hard as Kallijas it felt like, at the thought, and the three of them had teased me relentlessly ever since.
“We’ll all help,” I’d said and she hugged me, since it was in my private rooms, and Ky had tapped my arm approvingly with her fan. Ky was leaving me messages in my rooms, with little posies of flowers and I was sending others back to her.
... I’m doing my Ten Tens... but... I’m not naked... I’m coated in ... my father’s skin. It’s as if I’m trying to hide from the Gods. My father did some form of the Ten Tens. But. I stop and strip off the rotting skin and Risae burns it to join the rest of him where ever he is.
“Lady. If there is any taint in me, will you burn it away too?”
She raises a perfect knife-slash eyebrow at me. “You are beginning to use the brain you were given, boy.”
I want to move, to bow, but I can’t. I am naked before her. My soul is bare before her. She takes her razor nail and parts my chest to get a close look at my heart. I look down and see that somehow I am opened but am not bleeding all over her pristine floor. My heart beats steadily, my blood stays neatly where it is supposed to. It doesn’t hurt at all. It is less as if she opened me and more as if she made me clear as glass.
There is a pattering noise and a large white rat, on its hind legs, comes in from the whiteness all around and gives the Goddess a black glass piece that is like a mirror. She holds it up next to me and compares my insides with something she sees on the front of the glass that I cannot see.
“Better. But there is more to do.”
I cannot speak. “We will speak again, boy,” She says. “Minis.” Why call me? I’m right before her. She begins to fade even as my name comes again, still looking at me, critically. “Minis.”
I wake up with a snap, my face on my desk. It is Antras calling me awake. “Perhaps a bed would be more appropriate?” He has a cup of herb tea in his hands, and my sleep shirt slung over his arm. I’ve drooled on the top letter.
“Oh, thank you... Um... thank you, Antras. I’m... I was dreaming.”
“Hopefully a comforting or useful dream, Ser. Have a sip while I unhook your hair from where it has gotten tangled, shall I?” My hair had gotten wound around several buttons.
“Not comforting. It... was... interesting.” I sipped and he had me loose in a moment. “Thank you, Antras. Sorry, I meant to go to bed earlier.”
“Not at all, Minis. Gannara and Farasha sent a note back that they are staying with his parents overnight. They will be home tomorrow.” It felt good to hear that Antras considered Gan and Fara’s home to be the Marble Palace. It felt like I hadn’t peeled all of the heavy paper off my face, even though there was no sign as I swiped a hand over it.
“Thank you for passing that along.” I levered myself up to my feet, taking a quick glance down to check and see that the Goddess had closed me up properly, shaking my head at myself at the silly thought. “I’m coming.”