The thermal wind rising out of the City was full of his nightmares and Lixand, in the double wing from Tardynk, out of Laka, found himself in a wringing sweat. Taking deeper breaths of what caused panic wasn’t going to help him calm down. He clamped both hands over his nose and mouth and shut his eyes, wishing there was a way he could breathe without smelling Arko.
He swallowed heavily and didn’t notice the tingles along his fingers and then over cheekbones and nose, down to his chin.
Oh, thank Koru, I’m getting used to it! He dropped his hands and shook his hands out as the pilot signaled her security codes and spiralled them down to the Marble Palace roof. It was certainly not where he would have landed if he were coming here himself.
It shouldn’t be too bad, since he’d never been given to entertain at Kurkas’s Marble Palace and he wouldn’t recognize anything.
He set his mind firmly on the positive he could remember of Arko. Jitzmitthra, for one. There’s a candy maker on Harp Street, just off Surfeit of Sweets, or used to be. He made it through the sack and made amazing fanillas caramels. I’ll have to stop and buy some. Sometimes Ardas and I and Liki and Roro’d get tips and on festival days, like the one for Imbas, just coming up, we’d go and buy tiny bags that we could wolf down before we had to head back to the house for festival curfew. The dance master would always confiscate any extra sugar, saying it would ruin our training. I think the old wart would just eat them himself.
On those days we’d splash in the fountains, though we weren’t supposed to and people would call the Sereniteers to chivy the slaves out of the water. Most of the staffies would just wave us out and reassure the good citizens that we weren’t fouling the water. Roro used to sneak out at night sometimes just to piss in the water because it bugged Arkans so much. He got caught sneaking out and so just got clouted rather than getting beat. Fouling the water was much worse.
He thanked his pilot, in Enchian, and wrote a tip for excellence on the bottom of the scrip. Something that mata was always on about. You pay for good service. Besides, Dosha was cute for a Niah and he winked at her. “Perhaps the most excellent courier would care to meet me for dinner?” he said.
She even giggled. “Sorry, Lixand, I’ve got my return route after I nap and grab something quick. Perhaps when you head home? I like Lakan food.”
“That will be good. It’s a date, then.”
The servant waiting to take his papers didn’t grin but Lixand nodded at him anyway. He felt like his mouth were going to crack as he switched to his rusty, deteriorated Arkan. “Here we are, honourable and faithful servant of the Marble Palace! I’m here to catch up with my mother, Megan Vitlak.” It felt like he was chewing glass and the only thing that made it easier was the equal to equal, rather than upping everyone. “She’s a guest of the Imperator.”
“Ah, yes… Lixand Vitlaksyn. She’s currently in the Temple. Let this one show you to your room. It is in the suite set aside for her.”
“Dah.” He reached to pick up his bag and found another servant, a girl page, clutching it to her chest. “Oh. Zpaziba.Thank you.”
“When will she be back from the Temple, ser, do you know?”
“These ones do not. The sera did a spectacular show for the Imperator’s dinner. This one saw. And then a ‘Taken-up’ took her to the Temple to recover.”
“The sera was quite fatigued.”
“Ah. Would I be able to go over to the Temple myself?”
“There is no reason the ser should not. Does the ser require an escort?”
It was starting to make him twitchy, being one upped. He coughed and said, “I’ll wait for a bit, then. I should get changed after my flight.”
“Should the honourable ser require a snack or dinner in his room, please to inquire of the hall servants.”
“Um. I see.” He turned to the page and waved his hand at her, forcing himself to show them freely. He felt as though there were ants all over his hands because he had no gloves on them. I should be over all this! He snapped at himself. “Thanks for carrying that, serina. I can take it inside myself. Thank you for showing me in.”
“The ser is quite welcome.”
The door shut behind him and he stood, looking at the very plain, administrator’s chambers and was very glad they were so simple. He’d focused on the servants in the short walk down from the roof because the gilding and the opulence set his sweating fears off again. “Mata, this is going to be very strange.”
The roses in the vases were curiously lacking in scent until he went over to smell them specifically and his nose tingled and the scent came up strongly. He sniffed, sneezed and then breathed in their full scent. “That’s…” he thought back to where he’d tried to cut out Arko’s stink and turned to the mirror to see if he could see anything. There was nothing showing on his face, under his short wisps of beard, until he brought up his fingertips and whispered. “Let me see.”
A fine silver net sprang into existence over the bottom half of his face, and vanished again as he drew his hand away. “Now isn’t that interesting. It’s a good thing I haven’t lost my sense of smell.”
He tossed his shoulder bag into an empty closet, pulled his shirt off over his head and flung himself onto the bed. “There. Settled in. Now, mata, I shall have a short nap and if you’re not back then I’ll go over to Temple.”