Tuesday, March 31, 2015

97 - The City's Cleaned Up

With that, Matthas sat down on the floor and then gently lay down on his side on the carpet, hands tucked flat under his head, eyes closed.  Minis nodded towards the mirror, indicating the now softly snoring man. “I’ll send someone for a litter and we’ll get him back to the Temple.  Teik… ah… Megan, it’s vanishingly rare that the Arkan Gods actually speak directly and clearly through one of the taken up.  It might be that the Fenjitza will know what the Goddess meant.”
Megan had been staring at the man on the floor, thoughtful, and looked up as Minis spoke.  “I… astonished… I am.  Most people don’t know the name of the Zak ancestors.  Rus was one of them.  We took Kozakey from others and from our stories… but an Arkan Goddess knowing of Zak? And… hmmm. A problem we have.”

The door clicked open and litter bearers came in, loaded Matthas onto the chaise-palanquin and bore him out smoothly, followed by his faithful Atzatharatzas, who managed to do a lightning fast prostration and rise on Minis’s word.

“This… is becoming far too interesting.” Minis put his half-eaten food and his cup back onto the cart.  “I have a ten of letters to write, and we need to arrange to have the Fehinnan ambassador to dinner… tomorrow?  Would that be acceptable?  Jorasa will be able to get you what you need to be presented as an entertainer, and… she can take you across to see the Temple.” He shrugged.  “Have you seen it before?”

“Nyet, Im—Minis.  I am intrigued now.  I had no idea that it bursting at the seams with manrauq of a sort that I’ve not seen before.  The person you mentioning were? Your ‘high priestess’, you said?”

“Yes, Jorasa can take you over and introduce you.  Megan. Thank you for coming here. I understand that you’ve had difficulties with Arkans and Arko most of your life.  I cannot fix that but I can certainly apologise.”

“You sounding like the gold bottomed Yeola-e!” She laughed.  “War’s done. Arko’s acting like a grown-up now is!”  She wasn’t quite as unshaken as before Matthas’s entrance, as evidenced by how she spoke, her Enchian a fraction rougher than it had been.

“Well, please to be my guest as well as my translator,” he said in extremely rough Zak.

She grinned.  “Dah.  Send you a note, I will, through faithful and invisible Jorasa.”


Megan paused on the top step of the Temple, turned this way, then that, looking up at the enormous columns and the soaring heights of carved marble. Then she turned to look back over the Presentation Square with cooling tree sculptures, toward the glittering, dream-like Marble Palace behind its curtain of fountains. The City's really cleaned up. Of course any place would, she thought. It really looks much nicer when it’s not on fire; full of blood and bodies.

Monday, March 30, 2015

96 - Yes, Mama

Kyriala carefully climbed out of the warm pool in the Greater Bath, taking care that her sodden hair not pull her off balance.  Farasha sighed in her sleep, over on the chaise, napping.  Ky yawned and considered napping as well, but even though they were both suddenly very tired, she sometimes found it hard to sleep if she napped this late in the afternoon.

She unlaced her swimming costume while she was still in the water up to her hips and worked her arms out of the sleeves.  There weren’t even servants to help her, unless she called, which was why she was getting out. It was silly, she thought, to be swaddled and constricted when there was no one to be offended by her nakedness.  Certainly Farasha wouldn’t be, even if she were awake. She giggled to herself, thinking how scandalized people would be if they realized that the Imperial bedroom was a haven of nakedness for the four of them.

The swimming costume slowly floated down and she stepped out, up the stairs letting it drift down to the bottom of the pool.  She’d go back for it in a moment. She let her hands slide over her belly, the growing child deciding that it was time to show.

“We’re suddenly getting bigger, hmmm?” Fara sat up and stretched.

Ky laughed, letting her hands glide over her bulging self and her aching, twitchy skin.  “We went for so long that I was starting to wonder if there was something wrong.”

A brisk rap on the door announced Inensa and Daurama Liren. “Mo-ther! Step mother!” Kyriala retreated back into the pool, her braids floating up around her.

“Don’t be silly, daughter,” Daurama said briskly, holding up a towel.  “Propriety goes out the window when there’s a pregnancy involved.  Come along and get dry.  We had a lovely visit outside the city but now, what with all the strange things going on, we have to get you set on your proper regimen. My goodness, you shouldn’t be swimming without someone to help you should you get tangled in your bathing costume or hair! Honestly, sweetheart!”

“Your safety is of vital importance,” Inensa said as she sat down next to Farasha.  “Both of you, because you are proving that your relationship is viable for keeping my son balanced.”

“Oooooh! I’m not a baby, mother!”

“Inensa, I’m quite capable of helping Ky if she got into trouble swimming,” Farasha said snappishly.

“And who looks after you if you cramp?” Inensa sniffed.  “We just tested for a number of girls to be here for you as your women’s Mahid.”

“They’re still settling in,” Ky said, but she sounded less than certain.  “I… didn’t think of that.”

“Well, Captain Idiesas’s Girls are here now as part of your guard and we’ll have new schedules set up shortly.”

“Mother-by-marriage, they aren’t GIRLS.  They’re women and warriors both!” Ky rose out of the water, letting her mother swaddle her in towels.

“And they have women’s parts.  Granted.  They are going to be guarding you more closely, daughter-by-marriage.  They are even going to learn the women’s dances with you, that –“ she held up an immaculately gloved hand when Ky tried to interrupt.  “I know you already know them, but it is necessary that you begin to practice them, every other day for now.  And I’m told, Farasha, by your mother, that your people have women’s exercises for childbirth.  She says that she’s willing to teach both of you and Daurama and I, though we aren’t looking to strengthen ourselves for more children.”

Farasha looked appalled and then began laughing.  “Oh, Ky, they’ve decided we can’t grow these babies without help!”

Ky looked mulish for a moment longer then began laughing too.  “I suppose I should be grateful that you’ve not brought in the herd of aunties!”

“Quite right, too!” Daurama said. “I put them all off by saying that you had a lot of help all of them wanting to attend you in the Marble Palace.  But if you fight me, as your mother, I swear I’ll unleash them on you!  And your Granny, too.”

“Mama, she’ll paddle me with her stick, as if I were first threshold!”

“Barely hard enough to put a dent in a pudding!  Come along now. We’ll roust all your new guards and get them learning these exercises along with you.”

She sighed and leaned her forehead on her mother’s shoulder, smiling. “Yes, mama.”

Friday, March 27, 2015

95 - It Could Get Confusing

Minis rose and paced, his hands behind his back. Not a good idea in a room trap-darted but he didn’t think it was likely that Matthas would go rogue on him and dart him, or Vitlak would suddenly try to kill him.  He stopped at the cart and poured himself a cup of kaf, grabbed another couple of beef rolls and the bottle of black sauce. “Megan,” he said thoughtfully.  “It sounds to me like the Fehinnan God-King is a slaver to his bones, since he steals other people’s bodies, not just their freedoms.”

“Dah. Shkai’ra said he was a nice kid, though very innocent, before Rik… the God-King… moved in.  She would have been here to translate Fehinnan for you except that she’s about to give birth and is recovering from our last trading trip.  She actually spoke it for years, as a mercenary.”

“Hmm. Megan, I don’t know if there’s Fehinnan fingers in my political cake, but if I can get you placed into the new Fehinnan ambassador’s household… not as a bed-slave, let me assure you… but –“

“—as an entertainer. I do acrobatics, though I’m getting a bit old for that, doing,” she said.  “Dah. I could listen.  I have just an act, for such, a slack-rope walking.” She leaned back, pinching her chin thoughtfully.  “Throw a dinner party, you could, for new ambassador, let me play and you reward me by letting me sit and eat with you all, hmmm?”

“That’s a good idea—“ Atzana’s tap sounded on the door just as it opened, to reveal the Temple’s newest taken-up, and his acolyte standing there. Megan was on her feet, Minis noted, not knowing his welcomists signal. “Yes?  What do you require,  Matthas?” This could get confusing with all the Matthas’s around.

“I’m sorry, Imperator, he came up and just wandered around my office, um, sniffing,” Atzana said, just as Atzathratzas chimed in with “He was in his bed in the Temple and just sat up suddenly. I got him to put some robes on before he wandered over here naked.  He, um, went to the Imperial Chapel first and sat there for a while.”

Matthas Mahid was at the window, hands and nose pressed hard against the glass, turned toward the Temple, eyes closed.  Then he turned as though sleep walking, sniffing like a dog.

“Excuse me, Megan, this is… or was, one of my Mahid.  He’s not really Mahid any longer… he’s sort of possessed by the Temple.”

“A kind of magic?  My people would call it manrauq. I wouldn’t think that Arkans had any kind of magic at all.”

“Just from the Gods, look out there –“ Atzathratzas pulled the cart out of Matthas’s way since he would have just walked right over it, turning towards Megan when she spoke.  She slid sideways as he moved to where she’d been standing.

“Matthas Mahid, what are you doing?” Atzathratzas, with his notebook, slid into his grip, and still with his eyes closed his hands darted out to touch over the acolytes’ face.

“Not right,” he muttered. “Where is it?”

“What are you looking for, Matthas?”

“Power.  Not you, Imperator,” he muttered. “Power. Risae commands. Mikas commands. Biolgical power source.”

“Power?” Megan said and he turned toward her voice, questing.

“You can’t just touch people without permission, Matthas,” Minis said.  “I should have the guards take you back to the Temple.”

“No. Mikas commands,” he responded. “May I touch power?” Megan had moved all the way around the room to the door.

“Matthas are you asking permission to touch Megan Vitlak?”

His outstretched hand swung to follow her as she moved, glove tips quivering. He said, “please?”

She hesitated for a long moment before she said ‘Yes, you may.’  He stepped forward slowly and his fingertips gently brushed her cheek, her nose, her eyebrow, stopped at her temple and down to where her heartbeat pulsed under her ear. She tensed and he stepped back, his hand dropping slowly.

“There. Is that sufficient, Matthas?  Will you go back to the Temple now?”

He hesitated, swaying where he stood. Then he straightened suddenly, snapping to Mahid attention and everyone recoiled. “Imperator. I have been partly released by the Temple to explain. There is a power source the making Gods have never seen before and they require me to find it.” His eyes closed again and his stance changed, an echoing woman’s voice, the divine tones of Risae, came out of his mouth. “Vitlak. Rus descent? Ah. Deteriorating genes. We can fix that little problem without you becoming a wampir. Will you come to the Temple to speak to Us?”

Thursday, March 26, 2015

94 - That Is Disturbing

Minis had just thrown some water on his face and flung his arms around his loves before Atzana told him that his emergency appointment was ready to see him.  Kyriala caught him by the elbow and put a beef roll in his hand. “You won’t be any good if you fall over.  Atzana’s sent for more food to come up to the Office.  You missed dinner and you’re probably going to go late with this woman.”

He grinned at her, kissed her cheek and tore a bite out of the roll before pushing off to skate up to the Office.
Matthas was the only one in the trap booth, with his pens and his notebooks.  “If she goes to claw me knock her out, hmmm?”

The Irefas man snorted. “Certainly, Imperator.

He wasn’t sure what to expect, though he’d been in Brahvniki and had seen Zak before.  She came in with her hair half up, leaving a thick fall of it to her feet, Aitza long.  She wore a high-collared shirt with bloused sleeves in white, with red, green, blue and gold embroidery on the deep cuffs and collar, bloused black silk trousers tucked into low soft black boots. She'd left off the heavily embroidered vest common to her people, because even so close past the Solstice it was hot in Arko.

She swept him a flourishing bow.  “Imperator.  I am Megan, called Vitlak, though the white has spread somewhat!” She indicated  the wide band of white spreading from one side of her head over her crown. “You need someone who speaks Fehinnan?”

“Yes, please. Be welcome, Teik Vitlak. Please, sit. There is salt between us. Have you eaten?”

She sat, one eyebrow climbing. “You know Brahvniki, Imperator?”

“Just Minis, please,” he said settling down with his elbows on the desk, chin on his hands.  “I was a scholar in the Great Library there for some days.”

“I see. Well, of course I share the salt with you.  And if it’s ‘just Minis’ for me, then it’s ‘just Megan’ for you, hmmm?”

“Megan.  Yes. So if you could tell me what you know of Fehinna?”

She nodded to herself, a trifle abruptly. “I was sold off to Fehinnan slavers more than a Great Hound’s years ago, got away in the Fehinnan Empire… at their main city of Illizbuah.  I learned the language there, and met my wife there.”

“So you’ve seen their Empire from every angle then?”

“You might say so. They tend to meddle in everybody’s business, on a - how you say, cockroach level -- to keep any possible rivals off balance or weaken them.  It’s the God-King’s policy.”

“Is that so? I’ve heard a thing or two about their God-King… being in the God-King business myself—“ she laughed at that.  “—but he sounds more than a little odd. Do you know more about him?”

She looked pensive and tapped her nails on the desk, thinking.  “I’ve been thinking, am, or were, all the way here how to explain this,” she said.  “My wife, Shkai’ra, actually met his current body. Halya, she slept with his current body, before he moved in.  That’s how he doesn’t die.  He invented had a way of putting himself in someone else… with priest help and what they call the Waters of Knowing.”

“Wait… you mean it’s the same person moving from body to body? Stealing them?”

“Well, he’s set it up as a sacred ritual… a glorious sacrifice.”

It was Minis’s turn to be silent.  Atzana tapped on the door and Antras wheeled in the dinner cart with a flourish.  In silence he whipped the covers off the top trays, set a pair of finger bowls and towels on the presentation shelf, murmured ‘It has been tasted, Minis’ before taking himself off with a perfect bow that encompassed both of them.

“Please… help yourself,” he said, waving at the cart.  “What you’ve just told me has unsettled my stomach somewhat.  So… these sacrificial people… do they die? Where do they go? And how long has he been doing this?” He drank down half the water in his glass.  She sat tight in her guest chair, looking at him intently.

“Eaten I have.  Your so-efficient servant who met me saw that I had everything.  Hmmm. To answer your last questions in order, being I.  As far as anyone can tell they are still there… all of them, maybe?  Who knows? He takes control, mostly.  Sometimes if he’s doing something, his body will do something unrelated to what his mouth is saying.  The priests say he’s from before the First Fire, living. Who knows for sure? Most people are not seeing him.  He speaks through the High Priest most often, now. He… is caring less for this world, thinking like an Undying One as they call him.  He’s now, how do you say it? Out-living his problems.”

Minis looked down at the Seals, his hands flat on the cool stone.  “That… is tremendously disturbing.”