Saturday, March 30, 2013

1 (660) - Imperial Prayers to Selinae

Minis raised the wine goblet to the crowd as it threw off its soaked clothing, prepared to meet the new year cleansed.  Ky stood next to him, in white samite shot through with gold and silver threads, just as the feathers of her fan were pure white and only barely tipped with gold.  She was sure her face was as pale as her dress and she held onto her gorge and to her consciousness with clenched teeth.

I will not bleed through. Just let me get through this, let the new year start and let me go lie down around a hot water bottle. Her monthlies had not gotten easier, since she and Minis had married.  She’d hoped that wedded bliss would make her body less tense and thus less in pain.  Akminchaer had said it didn’t really work that way.  Farasha and Gannara, at her back, were there, ready to catch her if she fainted.  It wouldn’t be auspicious for her to faint.  She gulped another deep breath.

This menses was both late and particularly heavy so her pain was correspondingly high.  Minis finished the libation that started the year, turned to offer her his arm as the crowd made its restrained cheer for the start of the 47th Year of the Present Age. Though truly it was again 547th, given that the former Imperator had graciously sought another extension from the Ten.

“Lets get you in, Ky,” he said, trying not to let his worry show.  Then he shrugged and put his arm around her waist to help her.  Let the conservatives squawk that he was unseemly to touch his wife so intimately in public. “I’m all right.  It’s just a little worse this time.” She and he both knew she was lying.  He helped her down the hall, through the massive glass doors. Once inside he threw propriety to the winds and scooped her up in his arms and carried her across the Imperial bedchamber, to lay her gently down on the warm bed. She could feel the slide of her woman’s beads against her skin as he kissed her.  “I have to go open the next sitting of the Assembly,” he said.  “I love you, Kyriala Aan.

“I love you, too, Minis Aan."

Gannara had a ceremony to do in the Temple, as the Imperator’s alesinas... something that Minis and his scholars had dug out of the archives from before his grandfather’s time, the last Aan Imperator to have official wife and alesinas.  Shefenkas had been so busy setting things right after the war that such ancient old rituals had had to wait, anyway.

"Come on, love. I'll see you comfortable."

"Thank you, Fara. I don't know what I'd do without you." Farasha saw her out of the elaborate dress and Ky wrapped herself around the glass bottle coated in felt so the boiling water in it not burn her. She closed her eyes to put herself into darkness.  The room was bright and full of light but her heart was full of tears and she wanted to let them out.  But the servants would hear and the Pages of the lip would carry that little story to the printed Pages.  She could see the headline, not from the Pages itself.  Intharas was not so crass as to trumpet every little thing about the family.

No, the Sunrise Watcher was the rag printed once every eight-day, was devoted to watching the Imperial family.  Ili’s every tantrum, or escapade, every kiss that Gannara and she or Farasha and she shared in what they thought was private... Every time that Minis and she cuddled it seemed that someone caught a glimpse and wrote the most lurid passages about them. 
The Sunrise Watcher was also the most relentless speculator as to Minis’s potency and her ability to bear children.  The last nasty little article speculated if her having her ‘Purification’ eased might have damaged her ability to get pregnant at all.  As if she weren’t under Haian care and Akminchaer were not giving her remedies and supports all these past months! 

They were speculating on how good a healer he could be if she couldn’t bear as well as all kinds of vile speculations about Minis.

She’d hoped.  This time her menses had been so late.  There had been a dozen extra white beads slid over on her woman’s belt and she’d been so hungry through Jitzmitthra this year.

Then.  This morning.  She’d woken up to the most horrific cramps she’d ever had and the nausea.  And the blood.


Every month.  She’d prayed on her knees in the Temple every day but Selinae’s eyes were blank and cool stone, as always.  A baby.  A child. She’d prayed in the Imperial chapel.  Every day.  As she lay in bed, folded around her pain, her tears squeezed out of her clenched shut eyes.  They would not be denied.  She pulled a pillow over her head and sobbed.


Minis sat through the interminable ceremony, from the Crystal Throne, when what he wanted to do most was go be with Ky.  He knew she was probably in tears.  They’d prayed together in the Imperial Chapel enough to know how she felt.  He felt the same way.

I was worried I couldn’t... procreate.  I was worried.  Surya, looking at my energy, said everything would be fine.  I believed him.  I need to talk to Akminchaer again.  He tested my seed as well and said everything was fine.  He said Ky was fine. He said it was probably just the stress of having the whole Empire’s hope for an heir pressed on us.  Even Grandfather said we needed to relax about it.

The House whip and the House cudgel finally settled their weapons in their respective sockets or across their chairs, ceremonially, and he was free to go eat.

There was a stack of New Year’s correspondence on the desk in the Highest Office and his audiences started in less than a bead.  He went back down to the bedchamber instead, and without saying anything, wrapped himself around his quivering wife.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

An Empire's Bearing: (Post 659)


Reign of Fifteenth Kurkas Joras Boras Idiesas Aan 111 Year of the Present Age

The young men’s voices echoed in the caves, the alcohol in the glasses of their lamps sloshing and making the tiny flames dance in their pierced housing.  “We’ll be rich, I tell you!  Both of us rich enough to marry.”

The other one snorted. “Our fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers dug out all’a good stuff years and years ago, Tob.”

“So why did you come with me when I said I was gonna prospect again?”

“’Cause I found a fork once’t.”

“Yeah and you were with me when I found that broken spoon.”

Their talking stopped as the one belayed for the other around a tooth of rock, as they followed the old ways down into the mountain.  The fancy rooms up above, with the paint still showing on peeling, ancient, poured stone walls, had been picked clean a hand of centuries before. Some of the hallways had fallen in, with the ancient’s stone now powdered and crushed under tons of natural stone.

The water came and went, some years more than others. Rocks moved. The mountain breathed, crushing the tiny polyps that men had dug into it, as though scratching an itch.  

A flock of bats boomed through crevasse where the boys stood.  Used to it from years of prospecting and mining the ancient site with their fathers and uncles, they put their heads down, pressing gloved hands on their hardened leather hats until the air-shuddering swarm had passed.  “Must be dark out,” Ras said.  Tob nodded, unconcerned.

“We’re deeper than anybody’s ever been I guess.”

“Deeper than where your grand-da found that metal basin.”

“Hey, the factor for the Marble Palace bought that.  P’raps He Whose Will is the World’s is using it even now!”

“Who knows?  There’s a metal basin I heard they use to bath the new Spark’s butt.”

“Gods bless the new Spark o’ t’ Sun.”

“Yeah.  Maybe the Ten sent ‘im to make things better.”

“Hmph.  I’m more likely to make things better than 16th Kurkas, still wailin’ and squallin’ in his gold shit-britches.  Mind yer head, Tob.” They crawled through a narrow crack, their breaths booming and echoing before them, before dropping down to a whole new level.

The water had risen and fallen a ten of hundreds of times here since the old facility was abandoned, and any sign of square-edged walls was long lost under bands and swaths of stone, grown layer by undulating layer.  Except for the corner of something at the edge of a bright green and orange puddle.

“Mikas!  Lookit that!  It’s a...” Tob scrabbled at what looked like a rock and his gloves rubbed off more of the stone that had grown around the box.  It was small.  Perhaps three hand lengths long and one wide and one tall.  It had once been a dark green and black and the rock flaked away the last of what either Tob or Ras would have recognized as something they called a ‘curse mark’.  The last of the ancient biohazard symbol crumbled off with the stone as they chipped and rubbed it away.

“We ARE rich!  A whole metal box!” Ras shook it, once it came free of the crust where it had been buried.  “Anything inside?  That’d be sweet if there’s treasure too!”

“Don’t be stupid.  The box is worth more than any treasure.  Sounds like there’s just broken glass inside.” He checked it over carefully for any curse marks or other signs that the miners knew, but it was bare.

A dozen blows of their shovels finally popped the frozen latch and hinges and they emptied the shattered glass out onto the rock at their feet.  “Eh, some water got in, it looks like.”

“We’ll be able to marry!  Dang, the Marble Palace Factor will buy this I bet.”

They laughed, drunk with the thought of the wealth they’d found, rinsing their find in the puddle it had stood next to.  “We’re about half-through our lamps, Ras.”

“Tis enough.  We’ll remember how we got here, Tob.  Maybe there’s more.”

“If we need.  Yeah.  Hey, first one to the top proposes to the miller's daughter!”

“Hayel, I’d gather give my split-ring to their sow!”

As they left, with their treasure, they took with them their light and part of what had actually been in the box, floating unseen in the air, and in the water where they'd washed their find.

The box had kept its secret, sealed away for long millennia and that secret, washed into a puddle, flowed out of the mountain at the men's heels and rode in their lungs, and clung to their hair and clothing.

The Smoking Fig

“Hey, Ienas!” I looked up from my decanting, and looked to see if it was me being hailed or my son.  It was me this time and my boy smiled as he swooped past the bar, a tray full of empty glasses balanced effortlessly over his head.

“Go on, Da... I think this might be good,” he said as he whipped by me.  That made me suspicious.  What were they talking about behind my back?  No more birthday/horse-trough surprises I hoped.

It was Riala, a Dyer friend of mine... a girl of all things.  She was making her name with the Marble Palace and the Fortunate Fifty, making scandalous clothing for them all.  She had a line of ‘plunging’ or ‘bathing’ costume this year that was shocking enough to have me blushing.  It showed men and women’s bare feet and calves!

She sat at the fan-niche table with a tall guy who was the weirdest Dyer I’d ever seen.  He had a full, bushy beard when most Arkan men weren’t that hairy their whole lives, and clean-shaven the norm.  It made my Ienie stand out, with his gold-beaded moustache that he could click at you if he so chose.  This Dyer's beard was twisted to a dozen points on his  red, collared shirt...  His beard points were each one a different, eye-blinding, colour.

“Hello, Serina,” I said as I sat down with them.  The Fig was medium busy, so the shaded patio was where most people were.  Or up in the rooftop garden, so inside was pretty quiet.
“I’ll put you in a drum-rant if you call me that!”  She knew I liked teasing her.  She was worth any five of her worthless, Aitzas male relatives.

“Please do.  The Fig can use all the publicity it gets!”
She snorted at me, then introduced her friend.  “This is Dafias.  He has an idea for you.”

Oh good.  Another idea.  At this rate the Fig would be either owning or renting this whole block.  I had to admit things had changed a lot from my tiny, hole in the wall, exclusive wine bar I inherited. Da, you'd not recognize the place. The Fig with a big patio, The Figgish Gourmand... a restaurant big enough to need the faib-skater servers.  A rooftop garden.  “I’m not sure...”

“—Ser if you’d hear me out.” Dafias’s voice was fairly deep.  “You have this niche here and you no longer need a fan-boy for customers now that you have the windows made to fold open to the patio.”  That had been an idea I’d paid for, last year, and it made things just so much cooler and breezier.  It was better for the babies, too, when the place was full of bodies and my daughter-in-law run off her feet.  Better air, anyways.

“True, but what can one do with a fan-niche?”

He smiled.  “You’ve always been a connoisseur of really fine wines, Ser, and your partner trusts you to pair the wines to his food, hmmm?”

I nodded.  “So, what if afterward a fine meal someone wishes to have a bit of dessert, another sweet glass... and a pipe?  I’d fill that niche with the hundred varieties of Arkanherb and be able to cut your customers the perfect accompaniment to their sweet and their wine.  Why ruin a great meal by letting your customers smoke some dirt-weed their cousin grew in the back midden?”

Now I smoked a bit.  Every food-shop owner/chef/wine steward that I knew did.  My own supplier wasn’t bad.  It was Nikas the herb-shop owner in the Agora Market.  I admit I was sceptical.  “It’s not that bad!  Smoke is smoke.”

“Hey and wine is wine.”  He had a point.  “Say you had just your platter with what to drink?”

“A fourth year Asinanai, now.  Or a robust Niceas of the past decade.”

“Not a Ro?”

He had a twinkle in his eye.  “No, they had a few bad years recently.”

He pulled out a ceramic herb-case, but one that was the size of a book, with a dozen compartments.  The scent that wafted from it when he opened it was intense and wonderfully green.  I could almost taste it, just from the smell. I could see the table over next to us, lingering over their wines, their heads turned to check us out, just from that magnificent aroma. “What kind of buzz would you like after a platter and a glass like that?”

I thought I’d play along.  “How about... A smooth, strong start.  Not too abrupt and with a long finish on the palate.”  Let’s see what he did with the wine-language.

He just nodded, and picked up three different heads from his case.  Something frosty looking, something more golden and one almost blue.  He cut them together deftly on the lid, packed the pipe I offered him.  “I’d have house pipes...” he said absently.  “That way I could be sure of the residues.”  Or how clean they were.  Mine, admittedly, was a bit sooty.

I found myself watching his hands, the way they moved as they ran the cleaner through my pipe and deftly packed it.  I lit up my beeswax cord and my pipe, drew in a full lung, not sure what to expect.

A... strong start... very, very smooth, like butter on the tongue on the lung... hmmm. I could see and feel the edge as it came up and it was like stepping off a top step rather than getting dragged up and dumped into the buzz like some... Nice.  Very nice.  I let the aroma roll around my palate as if it were wine and exhaled reluctantly.  It would hold up very well to the red wines I’d mentioned.  I closed my eyes to think about it.

A herb wall and smokery as part of my Fig?  I took a second, thoughtful hit and was boosted slightly higher, but gently, as if I were sitting on a feather cushion.  Very nice. Riala grinned and inhaled from her own pipe, when I opened my eyes.  They knew me. I sighed.  “And the girls are after me.  They want to rent the mousehole across the street for a Seras'  Cream Cake and Kaf shop.”

“All ways to serve your customers,” Riala said.

I noticed that Dafias wasn’t as calm as he tried to show me.  He wanted it, was passionate about his plants -- and he knew his stuff.  The herb hit was still letting me down, gently as if I were a bit of thistledown. He watched me pretty carefully.  I snagged Riji on the way by.  “Be a dear, Rij and get Dorn for me?  We have a potential new market here.”

I saw the smile, even through the face-fuzz and Riala giggled at me.  Riji said ‘Sure, boss,” and zoomed off into the Gourmand.

“Let’s us see if you can pair your smoke with the food as well as the wine!”

This post is Dave's story, for winning my last comment contest with all his poetry and doggerel.  A superlative effort, Dave!