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.”
“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?”