It was auspiciously pouring for the last day of Mella’s Festival, but criers had been out all the day before announcing that Minis and Kyriala would speak at noon. Intharas had put out a special edition of the Pages announcing the twins’ birth and people were out in force, even if they were getting soaked to the skin. It was seen as good fortune to get soaked at least once, in Mella’s honour.
Minis was in the Imperial Robe and the ancient old collar that gave him a halo of gold spikes, glittering lines of diamonds both white and yellow, and a breastplate of topazes. He had to smile to himself as he looked over at Ili who was very solemn in the robe Minis had worn for his presentation. Although Ili was a thin rail of a boy compared to how rotund Minis had been. It was the despair of his nurse that she couldn’t keep the weight on him. It was all the riding and training he did.
Ky sat next to Minis on the Imperatrix’s Silver Throne, both babies in her arms, nearly buried in the trailing hems, one gold lace, one silver. “I will present our children,” she said firmly, though she still tired easily, only days after having given birth.
Farasha and Gan were still in the Temple, safeguarding her pregnancy still. “Horse-clots!” Fara had said. “I’m tired of being pregnant! This last moon cannot come too soon!”
“I’ll be there for you, love,” Minis and Ky had said almost simultaneously. Gan had just grinned and squeezed his wife’s hand. “If I can do it,” Ky said. “With all the cutting and healing and scarring… you can!”
On the Balcony, Minis cleared his throat and Ili turned his head. “Ilesias, this is a little different for you, hmmm?”
He laughed. “Big Brother I don’t remember last time! I was the Blob!”
“Are you all right with…”
“Stinky, all that weight of collar on you is frying your head, even in the rain!” Ili grinned. “I get to be just a prince now! Gian says that you and Ky are being very efficient producing two at once!”
Minis nodded, carefully, so as not to fall over under his robes. Atzana brought out the Imperial Line Book and Minis rose to put the Imperial Book next to it under the awning. Both books shone bright gold even in the rain and the crowd quieted as they saw him move.
“REJOICE, OH ARKO!” He tried not to flinch at the memory of Kurkas’s booming announcement. His own voice sounded very much like the old man’s. “I bring you a new Spark of the Sun’s Ray, a new Heir, a new hope!”
His voice, even in the balcony’s amplification, and the heralds all around were drowned out by the crowd’s cheering and Kyriala rose to stand next to him. Ili took his little gold-draped niece out of her arms and held her up.
The cheering went on until Minis raised his hands. “I present Inensa Amitza Sinimasina Aan! She is your new Heir in the eyes of the Ten!” The servant pressed the gold ink to her chubby foot as the applause rolled around the plaza, pressed it to the Imperial Line book and then to a blank page laid into the Imperial book.
Intharas was already getting letters from people who were arguing that they didn’t want a female in the direct line, threatening Minis with petitions of impeachment, petitions both for and against.
They washed the baby’s foot though she howled and kicked and complained. A good sign. Ili picked up the second baby as Kyriala took the Spark back and, to Arko’s consternation, set her to her own breast, though they could only infer it under the silver nursing drape.
“Your new Coronet Regal, Second Born! Daurama Narilla Frenaria Aan!”
Her footprint was dutifully imprinted, in silver ink this time. She didn’t protest all the passing around, only complaining a bit until she was safely in Kyrialla’s arms again.
People were pulling out wineskins to toast the children and then noticed that Minis hadn’t moved, arms upraised, while the books were carefully taken away and the awning removed. The rain had ended and tiny patches of blue were visible in the clouds rolling over the Rim.
“People of Arko.” He drew a deep breath and he felt Ky’s hand pat him encouragingly on the thigh, where no one could see. “The Assembly have heard your cries to the Ten and have directed me to approach the Gods through an Ordeal.”
There wasn’t quite silence, but quiet as people took this in. Minis pulled out a golden kerchief – how much like a Mezem red or white – and raised it into the air over his head. “It is now safe for me to approach the Ten, you have Imperatrix, Spark and Coronet.”
He laid the gold handkerchief on the stone in front of him, reached up and lifted the heavy collar up and over his head, handed it to the priests standing behind them all. The confused roar followed him as he turned to go down to the Steel Gate, with Kyriala and the babies.
He only stopped a moment to kiss her, in what privacy they had just inside. “You can do this, love. The Gods like you,” she said.
Minis’s smile was a little forced. “I’m just afraid that they’re a little crazy when they try to help human beings.”
“Hush. We’re with you in spirit.”
“I love you.”
“We love you too.” Baby Inensa kicked him in the chest and he smiled and tore himself away. The sound of the crowd outside was like a wall that hammered against him when he, surrounded by Dimae’s priests and priestesses as his protection, stepped out onto the top step.
He held out his arms and the priests with him took the Imperial robe off his shoulders, so he stood wearing only a plain linen kilt and the glass circlet he’d created during his Ten Tens. He slowly paced across the bridge raised between the Marble Palace and the Temple, barefoot, wading through the cacophony. In his right hand he held the gold handkerchief that could kill him, while in his left, the black that could save him.
The sun broke through, shining hard on his head as he walked. Gods couldn't you have had it be overcast a little longer?
He swallowed hard and kept his head up, eyes fixed on the Temple. This was more dangerous than the Ten Tens.