It was Intharas asking me “You Whose Arms Are the Fortress of the World, how did you break them?” all over again. I had to say anything, didn’t I? “Let it be shown that his rebellion was graven out of just one man’s grief, one broken man,” she added.
“Do you think he would want that known?” No one in the world will believe I thought of his privacy and his embarrassment as much as my own, but I am writing under the Oath of the Scrivener. At least I was alive to have a choice about it (though I had given that up by saying “anything”) and then to speak to it afterwards.
“I loved my husband, Imperator, but I would rather he be thought less than he was, than that the secrecy surrounding his death turn him into a martyr for those who would destroy what he, and I, loved most of all. He was no longer in his right mind, Imperator. He would not have raised a hand against Arko, had he been himself.”
I took a deep breath, thinking. Raising a hand against me was raising a hand against Arko, in her mind; truly, she was a loyalist. I wondered if she had ever told him this. She didn’t seem like the kind not to, and yet they were not divorced though he had been away. Had she said to his face, “You are not in your right mind?” Had she urged him to see a psyche-healer? I wanted to ask her all these things. But they were none of my business. Love someone though you might, if you betray a life-and-death promise to him and your underling kills him in your presence, you lose the right to his confidences.
Of course others would ask her, whether they had the right to his confidences or not. “Sera Iieon, how do you feel about… well, I’ll put it bluntly: being chased by writers? When I publish this—by sending it to all the newsfasts at once, that’s the only fair way—I will be asked why; if I answer the whole truth, they’ll be wanting to know why you had me do it, and if you reveal a quarter of what you have revealed to me, they will have a thousand more questions. I don’t want to answer only part of the truth, or tell them I am not telling all, else it’s back to that secrecy again… it felt very good to wash that off myself today.”
She peered at me with that keen blue gaze. “I could see that.”
“It comes down to whether you want to be public about your stance, that he went insane and was driven to his actions by a desire for revenge, against his better nature, which favoured peace and unity in Arko… there are those who will call you down for it if you do, who’ll say you’re a disloyal wife, who’ll say you’re dishonouring his memory, who’ll say you are wrong in all manner of ways…” I realized how it must sound to her; as if I were trying to talk her out of it to save my own face.
“I know, Imperator,” she said crisply. “I have heard what Arkan women who speak out about anything are called, by those who would descend so low. I am not afraid of writers.”
You haven’t dealt with them before, I couldn’t help but think. And again she seemed to be making a decision alone; that chafed. “Do you claim you need no one else’s go-ahead to authorize me to do this?” I said. “I’m a Yeoli, so if I’m given the word of a woman on this, I accept it. But you said you’d do what was in concert with your family’s wishes.”
“True,” she said. “I must speak with them.” It’s not force of personality per se, I saw. It’s force of conviction. That would enable her to carry it with them.
“I understand,” I said. “You want exactly the same thing I do.”
“What’s best for Arko.” We looked at each other, in a perfect harmony of understanding.
“Someone had to remove Kurkas,” she said. “No one else could. So here you are. In his agony, he lost sight of that.”
Agony felt like a brand on my soul. I never meant to hurt him. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I didn’t mean to do it, it was a mistake, an oversight, a slip... The deluded words of a child, caught with his hand irrefutably in the cookie-jar. The flailings of a heart that could not bear its own responsibility. Enough of me did indeed want to that it was done. No matter whether it was some of me or all of me. I’d eased it somewhat by ordering the Washing of the Streets… small mercy for the people of Arko. I didn’t even want to spit on their pain with tears in her sight.
“Speak with them, then, and let me know,” I said. “I’m easy to get to, these days, for those who have leave; I don’t have a crammed schedule. The rest of this day is open.”
She did indeed persuade them. My people, of course, thought I’d gone mad again. I could just see Hurai and Krero thinking, after all the sweat and pain we went through to try to cover this up. I wanted to tell them, “You should have known you couldn’t, with me as your semanakraseye.”
For myself, I knew it would be like having my ribs cut open and splayed wide apart, spilling out my innards for all to see. Nothing I didn’t richly deserve. Would people reading it think “Ah, no wonder he fell apart, anyone would,” or “This is nothing; how could he be so weak?” My sense told me it would be a bit of both, with most falling somewhere in between, as that’s how opinions go. But my heart careened from desperately hoping for the one to hopelessly dreading the other. I knew my emotion was far too intense to see it clearly. Now I was remembering Hurai’s words.
If it were a duel, he would have been handing you your head. If it were a battle, his warriors would have been slaughtering yours from behind while they routed. He thrashed you. He ground your face in the dirt. You let those vultures read those words, and all Arko and the world who hates you will steep themselves in them, relish them, taste them, study them, rally around them! You of all people, who does those beautiful speeches, should know the power of words. Are you going to give that to our enemies?
Is this best for Arko? It was like a wall between my eyes and the clear vision I should see, the emotion. Who else could I ask? They were all biased one way or the other, as blinded with emotion as I.
AN: Arkan alphabet chart
To do the cover for Book 6, I had to show Chevenga naked, didn't I? And to show him naked I had to include all his scars, didn't I? And to include all his scars I had to know how to write "AM" in Arkan, didn't I? And to know how to write "AM" in Arkan, I and Shirley had to develop the whole Arkan alphabet, didn't we?
See it here.