I’m picking through trash. Bits of broken gemstones that look as though they have been pulverized with a hammer I gather together with a damp fingertip and sweep into a tiny box for use as dust. Perhaps it will be useful, perhaps it can be set into glass or used to polish other stones.
There are soaked and burned books everywhere that I gather up carefully and set together. Some of the charred pages are bloody as well as burned, or soaked with liquids I don’t want to think about. Some are sodden with... something. It is going to take a lot of work to fix these books, if they can be fixed at all. Why do I keep them?
I don’t know. They have been precious to me. They are part of me. I will have to take them to the conservancy. Is there a conservancy here?
I am digging through an enormous room full of mounds of stuff. I can’t see the edges of this cavern, this palace. Faibalitz skates, some broken, some not, some so small I can hold both on the palm of one hand. There are toy swords and real ones, knives, a heap of Mahid knives, two or three bloodied. Armour. Mahid armour, padding. A Yeoli gauntlet lies pointing into space.
There are platters and plates of food... wasted, rotting. I shovel things into a pit in the floor. Where had I found a shovel? Of course everything is in here.
More gems, seemingly fallen down. I look up and stand, struck speechless with the glory I didn’t see over my head.
The stars shine in the ceiling, gems glittering in the light. Figures picked out in enamel and gold against the Selestial sky. The faded outline of the fat guy looming, shadowy. I see the stone where his image had been, dominant, smothering everything else. But he is vanished away, his image fallen into the mess below, like the image of the cliff Eagle, all the gilding peeled away.
There are crowds of people up there now. Kallijas, Virani-e, my mother, my baby sister, my grandfather, Mahid girls... everyone around me. Gannara and Farasha and Kyriala. Their images are the freshest, the closest.
I feel Ky’s breath on my ear, my neck. I turn and look at all the work I have to do and sigh and open my eyes.
It is half way through the night and I am lying in the Imperial Chapel. I blink and pray my apology to the Ten. I hadn’t meant to fall asleep.
I wasn’t asleep long. My arms are still above my head, I am on my face still. Bella is lying outside the Chapel snoring. The presence light casts a warm light over my head and the lamps outside, in Muunas’s Eyes still glow softly. “Muunas, forgive my frailty.”
“You are being too hard on yourself boy.” The voice in my ear makes me jump.
I sit up and look around and see the Pressman sitting in one of the few pews in the Chapel. I don’t need any of the clues to know who He has to be. I put myself on my face before Mikas. “Oh get up. You and I have talked before. Get up.”
His bluer than blue eyes are... compassionate? I see that as I sit up at his command. “Isn’t this what I am supposed to be doing? Meditating on my coming ordeal?”
He snorted. “A young man, new married? Surely your bride must have something to say about it? I wouldn’t abstain, were I you.”
I hadn’t really been abstaining, I thought. I... well... we... had sort of overdone things the first week. “I was kind of sore so I backed off, Oh God.”
He laughed. “Very snide, boy, I like that. Good for you. But you didn’t go back to something more balanced. If I didn’t say anything My own Lovely Bride would be upset with Me.”
“Thank You for coming to speak to me, oh Professional One.”
“Do you know it is truly Me? Or are you dreaming?”
I opened my eyes once more. Bella snored outside the Chapel door, her nose on the threshold of the door.
I didn’t think I was asleep. But then all sorts of things like this were happening as I meditated in the Chapel. I got up from the floor where I lay, my hands over my head, padded in my bare feet and genuflected once more before closing the door behind me. The lights in the Muunas’ Eye windows were almost out of fuel. I snuffed them, one at a time, so the image of Muunas on the outside of the Marble Palace must appear to be winking, viewed from the outside. I looked through the one window at the crowd camped in the square, waiting for my Ten Tens. It would be thirty days. The Temple itself was half clean. I could see the white coming through the black, even in the late night lights of the city.
Kallijas and I were working hard to make my assumption of full Imperatorship as smooth as possible. We’d managed to reach an equitable tax solution for the once-brewing rebellion on the north-east coast, and signed off on a rather major report from Perisalas. One of our shipyards had been slipping shoddily built quinqueremes under Imperial charter. He had seen to the correction of that little problem.
Everything else from now on should be... I hoped would be... small, day to day running of Empire stuff. Thirty days.
Bella nudged the back of my knees and I dropped my hand to her head as she moved up next to me. Thirty days.
I petted her and we went downstairs. As I opened the door, a boy jumped to his feet... ah yes, his name was Kirinias, one of the new Pages in my household. “Good evening, Kirinias, I hope you weren’t waiting too long.”
“No, Ser... Minis, ser.” He offered me the tray he carried, but not hurriedly enough to spill. I took a glass of water and smiled at him. He was a relative of Antras’s. “The...my... um, Ser Antras said that I should offer a second cup if that would please.”
“Yes, it would.” To be honest, the fasting during the day wasn’t that onerous but it certainly focussed my mind on the absolute abundance around me.
“Thank you, Kirinias. Good night.”
“Good night, Ser... Minis.” He’d get it soon enough. He was a good boy and tried hard for his Uncle.
Thirty days. I was certain I could hear Mikas's ghostly chuckle in my ear as I crawled into bed with my loves who made space for me with sleepy, welcoming murmurs.