This Jitzmitthra end, the washed and overflowing streets and the fountains and drains of Presentation Square full of lights, Kallijas stood, all but naked on the Balcony. He wore the head dress of the Wine Dragon and a loincloth. The soaking wet and soapy crowd splashed in the newly cleaned square and danced as the candles, in their fanciful little boats, drew the light through the city and washed the last burning little sins out of the city for another year.
At midnight, the city bells all began their solemn tolling, the first from the Marble Palace, all the others joining in, synchronizing all through the ten strokes, until they were all chiming that last stroke as if they were one gigantic clock.
On the first stroke, Kall took the dragon head off his shoulders and handed it off. On the second stroke held his arms up for the plain white robe that covered him from shoulders to feet. By the fourth stroke his hair had been combed into a perfect fall down his back.
As he was transformed, so was the crowd, drying themselves as the water level fell to mere dampness, donning their best white robes for the new day and the new year. They put aside the silliness; drew themselves into solemn order. I drew on a plain white cotton robe. I would be wearing nothing fancy for the next sixty days of my fast.
Ky stood next to me in her white silk, close enough to hide the fact that our bare hands were clasped together. She smiled at me on the fifth stroke, pulling her hand free, to cover it up with her white glove, withdrawing into the cool, distant, elegant Arkan lady. Antras finished combing my hair out and on the sixth stroke of the bell I nudged my foot over and touched hers, even as I tucked my hands into my sleeves. She smiled at nothing but didn’t pull her foot away.
On the eighth stroke they laid the Imperial robe on Kall’s shoulders for the last ceremony he would do as Imperator. On the ninth he took up the libation cup and on the tenth sounding of the clocks of Arko he poured the libation and held the empty cup to the crowd, who murmured their calm approval, whistled if they were still a bit overenthusiastic. A proper, staid, sober reaction welcoming in the new year.
“Welcome Muunas, again to the city of Arko.” Kallijas’s voice boomed out, deep and mellow as if he were singing the holy words. “May we as a people, as an empire, be worthy of Your kind and just regard. May we rise ever higher. Until we, once more, have worked our way out of sin and into the light of the Selestial and starry Realm.”
He set the cup into the Fenjitzas’s hands and placed his hands together, the Imperial Seals flashing the light of the lanterns, the light of the city. “It has been my singular honour to have served Arko as regent for Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan and I am pleased to present him to you in stout health, ready to serve you as you requested in the great vodai.” I stepped forward as I was supposed to and received the polite, subdued applause from a proper Arkan crowd.
The rest of the family, with us on the balcony, added their smiles to it. Virani-e’s face, as he watched Kallijas put off the Divinity of the Imperatorship, was full of grace in memory. He had always been divinely touched, I thought. But having such a place in the world must forever change you, as profoundly as when a child is born, or a wedding day, or a funeral – those things available to all men. Being a priest or a dekinas, opens one up every eight day to the presence of the Ten, or daily and being granted the position of Imperator means the possibility of not only being a voice for all Arko, but a conduit for the divine at any moment of life. Terrifying. Awe inspiring.
Over the next sixty days I would be thinking of all the ways this would change me profoundly. I was standing at the gate of the Imperatorship and to be honest I wanted to run and hide under the bed.
Kallijas drew the left seal from his hand, and showed it to the crowd. “The symbol of fidelity to you,” he said and placed it reverently in the Fenjitza’s hand. “The symbol of fidelity to the Ten Gods of Arko,” he said as he drew off the right hand seal.
Instead of leaving them in the Temple, as had been done before, the Imperial regalia would stay in Muunas Triumphant’s lap in the Marble Palace. He held out his arms and said “I am but a man once more!” as they reverently drew the Imperial robe off his shoulders.