Friday, February 27, 2015

77 (738) - What in Hayel Is That?

The Mahid Quarters were cram-full of people for the first time in years as the new bodyguards settled into their new rooms.  The training hall and gallery had bags and armour stands and even empty bookshelves and boxes as people milled about finding the appropriate servants to guide them to store their things long-term, the Finpollendias encampment, in effect, moving straight down into the Marble Palace.

“People kept saying how nasty the old Mahid Quarters were,” Emilia said to Melifee as they hefted their armour bags into one room together.  Melifee smiled, her teeth shining white agains her blue-black skin.  “These halls are beautiful, even if they are dug into the cliff and buried under a dozen levels of Marble Palace.  I mean there’s mirrors everywhere and each one is a work of art all by itself, there are enough lamps to make things bright, there’s crystals hanging from the anti-fire glassworks, paintings, statues and the beautiful warm rugs. They’re better than anything I grew up with, out-city.”

“Not bad at all, my dear,” Melifee answered, ducking under the lamp hanging from the centre of their room.  “We’ll have to get that raised or I’ll whang my brains out against it.” She was tall, even for a Srian woman.

There was another bang from outside and both women ducked reflexively.  “Why does that keep happening?” Emilia asked.  “You’d think people would be more careful about bashing into the lamps.”

All down the corridor the alcohol lamps had been cracking, or somehow getting knocked off their brackets and smashing on the floor.  That would have set off the anti-fire pipes in the ceiling except they’d also started malfunctioning when the new bodyguards started moving in.  Plugs blowing out and flooding the whole quarter so that they were currently unconnected to the rest of the system while fessas workmen stood on ladders and poked and tinkered to try and fix the problem; which added to the crowding.

But the lamps smashing and spreading burning alcohol was a serious problem and First Ilesias was posted on a high seat to try and direct people, and buckets of water stood everywhere... of course getting kicked over.  It was amazing how clumsy so many elite people could be.

“It’s odd.  I was looking right at that lamp when it cracked in half.  There was nobody in touching distance of it,” Emilia said thoughtfully.  “Here,you push that end of the bed over, hmmm?”

“It’s probably some bad supplier, because it’s all happening down here where the women are.  Didn’t this used to be part of the White Corridor?”Melifee said.

“I hope not, even if they had the Fenjitzae here to pray it clean.  But there is no more White Corridor, no more oubliettes, no more secret dungeons.”

“One reason we’re here my darling.” Mel leaned over the bed and brushed her lips over Emilia’s lightly.

“Oh, stop. There’s those wonderful coloured glass doors between us and all the men and the couples quarters so we can be oh so proper.”

“Then we should be over there,” Mel said.

“No room –“ There was a thunderous crash that shook the whole hallway and when they ran out to see what had happened, were bellowed at to stop, there were glass shards glittering half way down the hall, some even driven into the wood panelled walls.  The mirror at the end of the corridor, with trees etched into it, almost twice as tall as Melifee, had somehow fallen and taken the lamps at that end of the corridor with it, so the light had suddenly halved.

In the dimness, Emilie stepped back and exclaimed as her boot squished as she stepped onto their rug.  “Oh no! Someone’s kicked over—“

A cold wind blew down the corridor, the remaining lamps flickered and dimmed. Around Emilie’s feet the liquid that had soaked their rug... their red rug... ran around her boots and flowed out into the hall, dark and thick and stinking.

“That’s... blood,” Melifee whispered as Emilie stood frozen. A single droplet fell from the ceiling, splatting into the mess on the floor, then another. Suddenly they were soaked in a downpour as their ceiling bled onto them, making them stagger out into the hallway. Someone screamed, “It’s WARM!”  Everyone stood, staring at the words gradually appearing on the back wall, where the mirror had been, as if painted by a bloody hand, an invisible bloody hand. YOU ARE NOT MAHID. GO. OR I WILL KILL YOU ALL.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

76 (737) - They Don't Know Me Very Well, Do They?

Kallen was so startled that Minis would just ask him, his mouth fell open. “I... um... Imperator... I’ve always... I’ve missed... er... it was about the disgrace... I er I...” He stopped and swallowed hard.

“Assemblyman Kallen, am I to understand that you are still smarting over what happened when we were children?” Minis leaned back, settled his chin on his hand. Of course you are.

“I... er... I ahem, I was wrong in what I did, Imperator.” He firmed his hands across his belly as if to hold himself, or settle himself to say something difficult.  “You proved that to me with actual prosecution, and the judge did admit I was misguided by my elders and by the late Imperator.”

“You found out that I wasn’t like my father in tastes.  Did you know that I realized you were practicing on my younger Companions?”

His chin came up.  “We were all playing at that, Imperator. We were all misled by our relatives and by what the court was then.”

“Hmmm.  So, how does this answer my question?”

“What I want?  Imperator it would be beyond wonderful if I were once more accepted as one of the boon companions to the most High, even so diminished as to be” He cleared his throat. “I miss it.”

You slimy, self-righteous, pandering, idiot. “Assemblyman Kallen, you understand that my few days until the Solstice ritual in the Temple are very full, and I shall not be able to host you personally at the Winter Palace.”  You want to be closer to power?  I’ll throw you into the tiger pit.

“Oh, certainly, I should never expect—“

“However, please do attend my beloved alesinas as he is planning a boar hunt on the seventh.  My cherished wife and her alesinas have been asking me for more company – I’m sorry for the lie, beloveds. – and my adored mother has several interesting parties planned.  Venomous and poisonous plant gathering parties, as I understand.  You’ll fit right in.  I’m so glad we had this talk, Kallen, to straighten out our differences.” And when you’re reeling and not knowing which way is safe to step, worn out completely, you’ll get to play with Ili and his companions.  If we can’t keep you run off your feet and out of your miniscule mind in short order my name isn’t Minis Aan.

He was glowing with the invitation. A huge, beaming smile.   

“Oh, one thing, Kallen.  My wife and my mother are very strict on a gentleman’s conduct.  Please bring your wife and alesinas but no... hired children.”

Kallen nearly gobbled at this bit of bluntness, turning bright, turkey wattle red.  “Oh, Imperator, You Whose Hospitality is My Greatest Joy, never, never.  My alesinas will be thrilled!

“Of course.  Thank you for the heads up on the petition, Kallen.  I look forward to your report on how I shall do it safely.”

“Certainly, certainly, Imperator.” He went down in the full prostration and Minis waited just a moment before letting him up. “Gehit.”


The moment the door closed behind his pompous, greasy, beaming visage, Minis sat forward and dropped his face in his hands, the seals cool against his flushed cheeks.  “He wants to BE me, not be with me and my family.”

“I beg your pardon, Minis?” Atzana brought his cup of kaf and set it at his elbow, sipping from it first.  A servant held a basin with hot lemon water and a cool towel for him to wash his hands and face.

“Nothing.  Just trying to arrange things so that Assemblyman Kallen ceases to bother me. I need to write Gan to let him know the man and his family are coming up to the Winter Palace after Ili and I do the Solstice.”

“I’ll make a note of that.”  As he raised his head and reached  his hands to the basin, there was a tap on the door.

 “Imperator?” Matthas peered around the edge of the door, not coming in to where the booth people could see him.  “Just to let you know. That fellow who is calling himself the Fehinnan Ambassador?  He’s a slaver.”

“Is he, now?”Minis dried his face and hands.  “Thank you.  Please keep taking such notes for me.  I’ll see you after luncheon in the Scarlet Rosary room and we can talk about them.”

“Yes, Imperator.”

Minis gulped his kaf, barely cool enough to not scald his tongue, and nodded at Atzana and the page who bowed out.

“I don’t have time for Kallen,” Minis mutter to himself and tugged his whites straight.  “A slaver as an Ambassador?” They don’t know me very well, do they?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

75 (736) - Just Another Day In The Office

Minis pulled off his flying gloves and slicked his hair back as the rest of his escort landed and trotted over to the front edge of the Marble Palace roof to look at the protestors now gathered in Presentation square.

It wasn’t just a few any longer, it had grown to several hundred. The disturbing thing was the women, holding empty cradles, like Anae’s image in the Temple and their wailing for their unborn, showing the gold.  It wasn’t even rim dawn on the ground yet, they were all in shadow. The Nosy chimes sounded when he landed and the crowd started up with their calls and chants.

“It’s going to be a long day,” he said to Atzana, who had just put herself in order after unharnessing.  “I’ll see you in the Highest Office, after breakfast.”

“Your first meeting is with the librarian, Matthas,” She answered, looking at her list. “Then you said you wanted to meet the Body Guard Challenge winners, though you really don’t have time...”

“Move that to dinner court,” he said.  “Ah, here are my first new guards.”  Ilesias Mahid was checking their turnout and led them over.

“So... Body Guards... court dinner...” She made a note. “Then Assemblyman Kallen," she cleared her throat.  "You have a half-tenth pause for a cup of kaf and then Fehinnan Ambassador for three tenths.”

“Wonderful.” He didn’t try to keep the sarcasm out of his tone and she smiled at him.  He turned to Ilesias and the three flung themselves into prostration. “Gehit, please.  Ilesias, I assume these fellows passed with flying colours?”

“Certainly, Minis.” He nodded at the one. “I present First Filias Meren and First Teshan Nitzias.”

The new uniforms were wine red tunic and trousers tucked into sueded red leather boots. They wore the old silver Mahid buckle, the belt was a darker red and both men were armed with short swords and Mahid kits. Their gloves were a brighter shade of red doeskin and their formal blushwood combs, with fine red chains, were tucked precisely into their belts. Their arms showed pale between gloves and tunic, showing their youth.  “Serin Meren, and Serin Nitzias.  I thank you for your service.” Both boys smiled and blushed red, even though they were almost men, and slapped their hands on the kit bags to acknowledge.


The door closed behind Matthas and Minis said ‘Gehit’ before he could get all the way down. “Matthas, I understand you found a very rare monograph in the library for me?” Even the watchers in the trap booth didn’t know that Matthas was anything but a scholar.

“Yes, Imperator.  It is a four volume set.” Matthas slid his report across the desk.  “The archive was actually in Srian control and I journeyed to the library in question. It was actually outside the Sea Gates.”

“I’m impressed by your diligence, Matthas.” Four volumes meant four settlements. Minis flipped the cover open and past the first two pages of ‘references’ and ‘acknowledgements’. He skimmed over the supposed ‘precis’ and looked up sharply.  “Matthas, are you quite sure of these numbers?”

“Oh, yes, Imperator.” His head bobbed as if he were nervous, but an acknowledgement. “I was very careful.”

“I haven’t seen quantities of rare books like that since the war.”

Rare books.  Matthas had been investigating reports of Arkan slavers, thrown out of work when slaving had been abolished in the Empire, finding new and profitable markets.  Rare books were their agreed on code for ‘Imperial citizens enslaved.’

“I’m following up on reports of where they are getting their supplies and where they are marketing these volumes.”

Minis wrote ‘set Perisalas on them’ and handed the page to Matthas. “We need the information before we can buy the items we need.  I’ll keep your report and read it thoroughly this evening.” One more thing to do. At least I can stay up late with everyone still up at the Winter Palace.

“Thank you, Matthas, and before you go down, Gehit. I'd like you to take some notes for me, today, hmmm?" He tilted his head to the mirror hiding the trap-booth.  "Perhaps I’ll see you at dinner?”

“Yes, You Whose Intelligence is Thorough. Thank you, Imperator... ah, Minis. Thank you.”


“Assemblyman Kallen, gehit, how pleasant to see you.” Minis did his best to keep from grinding his teeth. “Have a seat.”

“You Whose Mind Enlightens the World. Thank you.” Kallen settled ponderously, gloves clasped across his belly.  “It is most kind of you to make time in your so busy schedule for me.  I shall be brief and to the point.”

Oh please be brief.  Minis folded his hands on his desk, fixing a neutral and pleasant expression on his face. Never let the spiritual Mahid know they’re bothering you.

“I wished, of courtesy, to inform you that the Mercy petition has well surpassed the requisite numbers of signatures.   So that you shall not be blindsided on the sixth.”

You wanted to see my face when you told me.

“For your diligence, Kallen, I shall have to commend you.”  He could see that Kallen was disappointed in his lack of reaction.  “I shall certainly be pleased to go speak with the Ten, formally requested.  Assemblyman.  There is one thing I fail to understand.”

“What could possibly confuse the Mind of the Imperium?”

“The Ordeal was originally to control the Imperator, called for by the people... as is this petition.”


“And the end of the Ordeal was also clearly defined by the ‘Showing the Black’ handkerchief, when the Imperator was clearly either chastised, and still dedicated to laying himself in the hands of the people.”

“Yes, Imperator?”

“How is this particular Mercy Ordeal to be ended, without my death? I’ve been wondering this since you presented your petition to Assembly.”

Kallen had suddenly lost his colour.  “I, um, I... We... um...” He and his handlers had clearly not thought he would be so blunt and Minis sat and looked at him, letting him flounder for a while longer.

“Please do let me know the minds of the petitioners,” Minis said, finally. “So that there is a clear end to this Ordeal and so that I do not have to truth-drug my faithful Assemblymen and women on suspicion of attempted murder and treason.” Not that he thought Ilian really was trying to kill him.

Kallen looked as though he was about to faint or have a heart stoppage. “Imperator as your former Companion, as a friend... please realize that I have nothing but goodwill toward you!  I am and have always been faithful!”

Delusional.   “But... Kallen...” Minis leaned forward on the desk, ignoring the flap of Atzana’s flag letting him know his next appointment  had arrived.  “Tell me.  What is it that you want, truly?  I mean what do you want from me?”

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

74 (735) - The Girl Domoctopus EATS the Boy

The dining room shone in the light of the candle chandelier made of glass antlers, all down the length of the room, and matching candle sconces on the hand-polished wooden walls. The fire-place at the opposite end of the big room was a comical full face made of native and pour stone together, a cheerful fire in its wide gaping mouth.  Doof had her perch to one side of the flowing moustache of the fireplace, cracking heavy toe-nuts chuckling to herself.

Bella, hiding under the snowy tablecloth, where she was most certainly not supposed to be and must have sneaked in with the soup course, sighed and put her nose on Minis's foot. He didn't betray her to Damen, one of the footmen, or Antras himself, the marshal of this family dinner campaign.

He looked down the enormous table, with the flower arrangements from the glass house nearly dividing the two sides into their own rivers of conversation, and realized suddenly why he felt so good. It was like Chevenga’s family table, or Gannara’s. 

The wreckage of the solstice family feast and stacks of the simple white plates were just disappearing into the serving pantry and the big platters were following. He caught Antras’s eye as he winked and smiled at a bevy of pages, all carrying half-empty bowls and platters. There would be a hearty feast below stairs tonight. He smiled to himself and rose.  “I’ll be right back,” he said and followed the pages to the serving pantry where he’d hidden his surprise.

Ili was in a deep conversation with Tanifas about the horses and the dogs and didn’t see him come back. Minis set the stacked whip cream and fruit pancake cake in front of Ili.   

“Happy Birthday, little brother,” he said, and Kyriala and Gan and Farasha set their plates beside him, enough cakes and cream for everyone.  “You didn’t think we were going to wait till after the City ritual to celebrate your birthday, did you?”

“Minis got the chef here to show him how to make pancakes, and I learned how to whip cream!” Ky flexed her arm and then let it flop to show how exhausted she was. “Gan’s parents brought the Haian fruits with them.”

Farasha whistled and the four began to clap and sing the old birthday song as Ili looked at his cakes and got very red as the whole table, even the Mahid girls joined in, the Haians clapping along even though they didn’t know the words.   

“Awww... errr... ummm. Thank you.” He glanced up.  “No rollerskating house donkeys this year, Stinky?”

Minis coughed.  “I’ll have you know I showered, Blob.  No house donkeys. But I think you should have Killer and two of the Mahid mares of your choosing, as yours, instead of them being owned by the Imperium.  I put the request through Assembly last session.”

Ili hopped in his chair as if he’d started to jump up and run straight out to the stables before stopping himself.  “Oh! Oh, that’s just wonderful! Thank you...”

Minis sniffed.  “And speaking of stinky... Ili, I’m sorry to say this but Jia’s been leaving dead snails in your pockets again – where IS Jia?”

Ili picked up the knife and began cutting slices of confection to hand around the table.  “Um... I locked him in his tank tonight... It’s not him.  I think our guest’s pet is hiding bits of fish in my shoes and loincloths.  They were in the cupboard under Jia’s tank and I thought I found all of them. Sorry.” He didn’t look sorry and truly the odour of dead fish was only faintly there.

Minis accepted his plate from Ili, grinning and retreated back to his seat up the table.  He didn’t need to stretch to see the Haian girl cringing in embarrassment for her pet.  “Tirchaer, I’m sure that Sophi only meant to leave Jia some presents.  I have no idea why my brother would lock his pet into his tank –“

“I don’t want him to DIE!” Ili blurted out.  “I read somewhere that if domoctopus’s um... have babies... they die... and sometimes the girl domoctopus EATS the boy!”

“That is not so,” Tirchaer said, straightening up from where she'd been trying to hide behind a flower arrangement across the table. 

"Is this truly an appropriate conversation for over the dining table?" Inensa said. Her father nodded sharply at her.

"Indeed, daughter. It is." She pressed her lips together, before accepting a cake plate.

Tirchaer forged on. “That might be so with wild species and shallow water, marine species.  The terrestrial domoctopus is social and non-cannibalistic... um.  Except that the female tends to eat some of her eggs... but the male usually feeds the brooding female.”

“Oh. So... I don’t need to worry that... um...”

“... them having sex will kill your JiaKlem. No.  Did you want to arrange for them to brood?  I’d like that but they take a bit over a year and I don’t know how long—“

“There will be years of research for your Mamin and Papin to do in the Marble Palace, and I will be able to work with Akminchaer,” Misahis said solemnly, eyes twinkling. "I am sure that we will be here long enough."

Her being Haian blunt had completely silenced Ili and he finished serving and stuffed a big bite of cream and pancake into his mouth to try and cover the fact that he couldn’t say anything.

“I’m much happier setting up a brood tank for domoctopus,” Tirchaer said. “They’re smaller than those black horses of yours.  They frighten me.”

“You don’t need to,” Ili said, swallowing a too-big piece of cake, hard.  “Um. They’re really very gentle.  I mean you saw how Nasty behaved when Stinky put Tesha and Joras on him?”

Farasha leaned over to whisper in Minis’s ear. “You think they’ll be new best friends?”

He put his hand over his mouth to hide his smile.  “Who knows? I'm no matchmaker.”