Minis clenched his teeth, hard. “Let’s go down and I’ll tell you. I need to take some time to eat and then I have the office work to finish up.”
“Good for you. Ky and Farasha both hissed into my ear that I was to look after you. As if I don’t know how.”
“Forzak it, Gannara I don’t need a minder! I didn’t marry you to make you be my healer or my keeper or use you like that and if you insult me like that I’ll be more than just upset!” Minis stormed off to the head of the lift, leaving Gannara standing, mouth open, behind him.
“If that’s why you think I married you, you’re crazed!” Gannara nearly shouted after him, managed to keep it down, though all around them servants twitched eyebrows and discretely withdrew. Gannara stepped in just as the lift doors closed, shutting both of them in.
“Well, the rags will have a field day with that,” he said. “Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan, I did not marry you to be your passive-aggressive bum boy! Or your healer. Or your minder. I married you because I like, love and respect you!”
Minis knelt on the back bench of the lift, gently pounding his forehead against the back wall as they dropped through the rock down into the depths of the Marble Palace. “I’m sorry.” His voice was flat. “I shouldn’t have said that.” He sank down, turning around, the pink mark on his forehead livid against his paleness. “The whole Assembly has taken Kallen’s call for me doing the Ordeal seriously.”
“Oh, shen, really?”
“They’re frightened old men and women who want grandchildren,” Minis said rubbing his face with his hands. Gannara sat down next to him, leaning forward to match him. The lift slowed to a stop and the doors sighed open. Gannara waved at the lift attendant who nodded and shut the doors again, without a word.
“We can’t sit in here all day,” Minis said, making like he was trying to get up. Gannara put his hand on his arm and he subsided.
“You can take a few moments when you are not under the eye of every person in the Empire, love,” he said quietly.
Minis sighed and let Gannara pull him into a hug, clinging hard. “That... that... pustule of a man, that smegma tasting, finger sucking, fan-chewing, cream eating, comb licking, mangy, wig-wearer!” He shifted to beat his head against Gannara’s shoulder.
“Have you been taking lessons from Intharas now?”
“They want to kill me,” Minis said flatly, ignoring his attempt at levity. “They debated all today and passed an ordinance that acknowledged the Ordeal Request, as they put it, to be significantly dangerous enough for me that they will need twice the number of signatures a regular petition would need.”
Gannara pursed his lips in a soundless whistle. “But they don’t want to kill you, love. They want you to talk to the Gods for them. You can do it. You do it far more regularly than the fat guy ever did, if he ever did. They saved you from an assassin’s dart that had vindictive snake’s venom on it. I think you can do this.”
“Kyriala’s pregnant. There is a Spark of the Sun’s Ray on the way. They might decide to go with the decently raised child, regent Imperator, rather than fumble-fathered me.”
“What? You think you’re going to be like the fat guy making the kid love only you? About as likely as Nasty talking.”
Minis sat up and ran his hands through his hair down to shoulder length before knotting his fingers in it. “No. No. I just don’t feel like I’m ready.”
Gannara began untangling his fingers and the seals from where they’d snarled into his hair. “So... who raised Ilesias?”
That stopped Minis. He stared at Gannara. “I guess... you and I.”
“And who does Nuninibas confide in?”
“His big sister.”
“And who’s been sleeping over, complete with dogs, cat and ferrets?”
“Farasha’s brother and sister.”
“So it’s not up to just you and you alone to raise our child, our children.” He smiled and put his palm on Minis’s cheek. “I suspect that belowstairs would be offended if they were left out in our calculations, too.”
“Oh. Well, yes. I suppose...”
“So let the dirt-herb smoking assholes see if they can raise ten thousand signatures, even after the Pages found out the Merciers crying outside were mostly paid, rather than petitioning honestly.”
Minis leaned into Gannara’s touch. “You’re right. I keep coming at this as though I’m alone.”
“Because you used to be. Now you have all of us behind you... and I think your mother is going to make an amazing Grandma, given how Tesha’s turning out.”
“I’ll have all the Grandmothers and Grandfathers –“ Minis started to grin. “They’ll have to take lots for baby holding, there’s so many of them!”
“Exactly. Now we need to go do today’s work and tonight we’ll talk with Itasas about how nervous you should be about doing a new Ordeal.”
The smile fell off Minis’s face. “That’s the point. The Ordeal isn’t just to pull an Imperator into line anymore. Kallen and his handlers have made it a more religious rite on behalf of the people.”
“That you can demonstrably do.”
Minis drew a shuddering breath. “It’s glorious and astonishing. But any man sane, is in awe and terrified respect of the Gods.”
Gannara got up and rang the bell for the attendant to open the door. “You’re sane love. Time to practice a bit more crazy.”
“Hair-knot. Just ask Sukala how to be holy crazy.”