746 - All good things to you
To: Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e
Arko the City
From: Chila Saranyera
etesora 69, 1553
You wrote asking us to let you know when we heard from Krero. He came here yesterday, but wants to live alone and so is now seeking lodging in Terera. He is well. He said many things, but I am not free to tell you. If you choose to write him you could send it through me, but I think probably that is not a good idea, at least yet. I am sorry to see your friendship broken when you were heart’s brothers from boyhood, had so many good times and went through so much together. I hope someday you will make peace and become friends again.
All good things to you,
From: Chevenga Aicheresa
City of Arko
To: Chila Saranyera
etesora 75, 1553
I hope you will forgive me for asking that you pass on a letter to Krero despite your caution. I do so only because it has nothing to do with his and my friendship, in fact is not personal at all, but a matter of political business, concerning information he has that another crucial person does not know but needs to to properly fulfill her mandate. I hope you will give this to him for me and will be deeply grateful if you do.
Warm wishes and thoughts,
As I wrote to Chila, nothing personal in this. I am writing to ask you if you will tell Artira, either in person or by letter, what you told me about the hawks: that they were out for my blood, at least metaphorically, that they are everything you ever hatefully said Arkans were, and so forth—but most importantly, because I am under the impression she trusts them, that they were composing lies about me happily, relishing them more for the more awful they were. If she comes to rely too much on these people as aides and advisors, I fear for Arko and ultimately for Yeola-e and for her. If you want to write, please send the letter to me and I will make sure it gets past the usual enormous Imperator’s mail-stack.
My best wishes always,
As you wrote that your letter was a public matter and not personal, I let Krero know that. He would not read it. “I am done forever with politics and political people and will have nothing to do with it unless I am called upon to vote in Vae Arahi,” is exactly what he said. Sorry I could not persuade him. His intention seems to be to sequester himself for a time, and we his family are honouring that.
I am very sorry that you are chiranyerai. It is against the will of everyone of this family as we all voted charcoal. At least you will get the chance to take some very well-earned rest. As before, the best of all things to you.
I will not pretend the transition wasn’t hard.
Not Artira’s fault at all, I hasten to say; there was barely anything I had to tell her more than once. Luckily the top Arkan bureaucrats, that mix of the surrendered old guard and my old philosophy students, all spoke excellent Enchian. They’d also become used to working with women, though they had not become used to taking orders from one. “Get used to it,” I told them.
It was myself. It would be so much easier to do it myself than explain… Doesn’t every person teaching a task feel that? I really am the only one who can do this… Notyere-like conceit, I scolded myself. You can’t lose such power when you have been wielding it well, and not hurt.
We talked about the constitution preamble, which lays out the principles, until she knew it inside-out. Its Yeoli influences she recognized, of course, and commended me for putting into words; the Arkan ones and why they are as they are I had to explain to her. They were the secret reins of power here. But at the same time she was talking to the hawks. I heard a lot of, “I think they make a good argument you were going too fast.” I’m going to hear that until I streak onto my pyre, I thought. Alas, I had never managed to place a mole among them; they were very generous with truth-drug, for Yeolis.
Arko blessed us by letting things remain uneventful for the moon we were doing it. I think everyone was holding their breath. In the meantime, Skorsas gradually had all of the family’s things boxed up, though he did not know whether we would be moving down the corridor or to Vae Arahi. “You can’t just ask her? Or tell her… she’d be an idiot not to keep you here, she must know it,” he said to me. “If it seems I am the power behind the throne, just as you are planning,” I told him, “then Arko sees their fodai subverted, and I might as well not have done it.”
The one interesting thing that happened was when Perisalas Shefenkas, the Sereniteer whom Rafas had assigned to command the search for Minis, caught wind that Minis’s fiancée was back in Arko. I felt for Perisalas, who was one of a number of educated slaves I’d manumitted and elevated to fessas early on, and who had surnamed himself after me in gratitude; he was a good man on a mission that his superior didn’t truly want him to succeed at. He’d been asking us for more people and money, and I’d made Rafas turn him down, for two years; it is a testament to his character that he neither quit on me nor took it to the Pages.
Anyway, he’d found Kyriala Liren, who’d been betrothed to Minis from very young, as I understood, and was now in her late teens, innocently tatting doilies at her mother’s house. She pointed Perisalas in the direction of Minis’s tutor, Ailadas Koren, but didn’t know where Minis, his little brother Ilesias, the other little Chevenga (Gannara Melachiya of Asinanai, Perisalas had figured out) or the Mahid were. She was certain, however, that the three were very separate from the Mahid, whose numbers had dwindled.
What had happened, Kyriala and Ailadas both revealed, was that Kurkas had sent a letter with Minis ordering him to obey the orders of Second Amitzas, and a letter to Second Amitzas saying “Raise him as I should have been raised.” I had to stand up and walk to the window, after reading that in the report, so as to settle the spinning of my head. That was as close as Kurkas had ever come to admitting something was amiss with him, far more than I would have imagined him capable of.
Second Amitzas interpreted that to mean “rigorously,” and of course he couldn’t help but apply the Mahid standard of rigor. He’d put Minis through a brutal course of war-training as they’d travelled from place to place in the wilds of Arko, as well as subjecting him to all manner of strictures. Ailadas’s tutoring, which had been such hardship to him before, now became a refuge. I tried to do chiravesa, to imagine what this must have been like for him, a boy who up until then had done almost everything he pleased and had every whim indulged, at least when his father was not torturing his heart. Having never been such a child myself, I couldn’t.
But the cruelty of Second Amitzas to Gannara and, worst of all, to Minis’s elderly nurse Binshala—he killed her, and refused to give her proper rites—made Minis and everyone with him who was not Mahid determined to get away from Amitzas and therefore, by necessity, the Mahid. They’d done a daring escape, leaving no trail by swimming down a river, then all returned to Arko. Kyriala and Ailadas had both wanted to come home, guessing they wouldn’t risk harm at my hands if they were discovered; Ailadas, in fact, had applied for work at the University. The three boys had left Arko, not revealing where they were headed, of course, and thus the trail had once again run cold on poor Perisalas.
Minis must be sixteen, I calculated, and he’d been trained into strength too, which brings confidence; as Kurkas’s son, Perisalas learned, he’d been looked to by the others as de facto commander, and grown into the role enough to succeed in this escape, obviously. I wondered what he looked like now, fatless, muscular and most of the way to manhood.
Since Perisalas’s requests would come through Rafas to Artira, I explained to her why I did not want Minis captured. “If he were, so many people, Arkans, Yeolis and allies, would call for his blood that we’d probably have to do it... sitae desan. But he has done absolutely nothing wrong.”
“And he’s a friend, I know,” she said. “I’ll consider it.” I had come to hate hearing her say those words, knowing what they meant: “I will decide once the transition is done and you’re entirely gone from this position.” And maybe even also, “And after I consult with the hawks,” though I told myself that was just my worry talking; surely she couldn’t trust them over me. But she was Imperator now. Minis, I called to him across the distance in my mind, keep being devious, become more so. As he got older, he would.
We came to the end of the moon, which happened to be the day after my twenty-sixth birthday. My family were all gritting their teeth to know, and my healer too, with a marriage offer in hand. “So,” I said to her, at the end of the last day, which was near midnight, “I am done with this. What would you have me do now?” I erased from my own mind how I would have answered me if I had been her: “What do you want to do?”
It was odd; I knew what she would say slightly before she said it, as if I heard her words two or three words before she spoke them. Siblings raised together, who cannot remember meeting so have always been present for each other, know each other like no one else.
“Chevenga, I want to try this on my own,” she said. “It’s best you be distant from Arko so the vote is not only honoured but seen to be honoured, too, is it not? But if something happens which no one but you can deal with, I will ask you.”
It would be too abrupt to leave her office, that had been mine, right then; I should give her my love and good wishes for her work, and make affable small-talk for a bit. So I did, but first scribed a note for Skorsas and gave it to a runner. “Vae Arahi.”
“We’re set to set off tomorrow,” Skorsas said as I soaked. Is it wrong for me to know how much I will miss being cradled in churning water, while I look up at the incredible curves and arabesques, carven so the marble looks liquid? “People by wing, things by ship and carriage.” The Imperial bed no longer being mine, we slept on another huge one in the old Imperatrix’s chambers (where Niku had never lived).
I woke up at the death-hour. The Arkan air lay like a huge sweaty hand on my skin, full of tendrils of heat. A lamp was on and I heard voices; I was not the only insomniac, for a change? It was Skorsas and Kallijas, their whispers only half in my hearing.
“He seems all right… means nothing. Alchaen… he won’t be able… his life… can we afford… talk to him to head it off…” Kall, more firmly: “Stop worrying, love.”
In the morning, Alchaen was there, his hand pressing cool on my brow, under the forelock. I didn’t truly feel it. The work for which I lived was done, and I knew it. No reason remained for my heart to beat or my blood to flow, for my muscles to flex nor a single thought more to pass through my mind, so like a wheel rusted in an instant, it seized up.