753 - There is no point to anything
It is very odd to never drink but never be thirsty, and to never eat but never be hungry. I’d doze for an afternoon, and wake up full, the strangest sensation. It’s odd never to have to pee, but I’d had that before. No Haian equipment eliminates the elimination of kyash, however. We used the good old-fashioned bedpan. How they know when you have to go while you are in ketanin, I have no idea. Some things non-Haians are not meant to know.
“Tell me what happened,” Perahin said to me, sometime later; the next day, or the day after? He was recording the Haian dates in his notes, of course; I reminded myself it didn’t matter. No, it was the same day, it had to be, because he hadn’t let in my loves yet. My memory still does not care. I was in a sort of a daze of apathy. “From when things first went amiss.”
I wanted to say, “Things never went amiss.” That would not be convincing, I saw, while I was trussed hand and foot because I’d jumped off a ship. I told him how it had gone, the sense of my mind slowing to a metallic halt like the Great Press when Intharas orders it stopped, the morning after the last day of the transition. It was all still very distant.
“Was it a surprise to you?” he asked me.
Such interesting questions, I thought. “Yes,” I said. I had thought I’d be fit to take on some task for Artira. I heard quizzicality in my own voice.
“Hnn,” he said. “Before we go on, if you swear to me second Fire come that you will do nothing to harm yourself, and that you will take food and drink by mouth, we’ll free you of the restraints and the invaders and transfer you to the House of Integrity, which is much nicer than here.” He’s going to say that at the start of every time we talk until I do it, I thought. It was clearly the protocol. “Will you?”
“No,” I said.
“What do you feel?”
I probed with my mind, trying to think what I felt. “Mostly nothing,” I said.
“Do you remember the thought that made it happen?”
I brought it up slowly, like the Press lumbering to a start again. “The realization… that there is no point.”
“Hnn.” It was never judgmental, that sound, just a bit of voice to fill in a silence. I couldn’t imagine Perahin being judgmental even if someone was eating his entrails; he’d just put his hand on their shoulder and go Hnn. I understand. “Chivinga, do you know… well, first, how many sema…”
“…of Yeola-e have been voted out of office?”
“Eleven, as history understands it.”
“Is it true that a number of them committed suicide, and if so… do you know the number?”
“Seven,” I said. If you are Shae-Arano-e, you know their names, though not all were Shae-Arano-e. He did not ask them.
“Of those who did not, do you know if any attempted it?”
“That’s lost to time.”
“Those who did it… do you see yourself as following in their footsteps? Or that death is your duty?” Again, I thought, such an interesting questions!
“No,” I said. “I hadn’t thought of it. My guess is they felt the same way I do.”
“Proven unworthy of life, by a vote?” It was hot enough that I had the covers thrown back. My hands were tied loosely enough that I could do it. I signed chalk. He asked me the particulars of it then. I told him the numbers, and how the greater population of Arko had tipped the scale. Three million eight hundred thousand Arkans voted… When I died, that would still be.
“But that means your own people did not find you unworthy,” he said. “The Arkans… might it have less to do with them thinking you unworthy and more with being angry that you defeated them, or that you allowed the sack of their city?”
“I think if they were to argue that the Sack made me unworthy, I could not disagree,” I said.
“Well…” He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts and shape them into words. “Help me understand this, Chivinga. You were Imperator; so they could not have done this to you without you allowing it, am I right?” I signed chalk; I was trussed lightly enough to do that, too. The way Arkan slavers and Haian healers slave-tie you are very different. “So why did you?” I answered honestly, that it had been to teach Arkans the vote. “Did you think it was likely you’d be voted out?” I signed chalk. “Did you expect that it would have this effect on you?”
“I didn’t think about it,” I said. “I set my mind not to.” He thinks I’m a complete idiot, I thought as he paused again, slowly rubbing his nose with his thumb. I felt no shame, though, just a faraway amusement. I studied his face, and had a realization about all Haians, almost with a flash. None of them have moles or skin-tags or even beauty spots. Have you ever noticed that?
“How can you sentence yourself to death,” he said, “after making such a sacrifice to give a gift so huge, after doing something so incredibly commendable?”
“I’m not sentencing myself to death,” I said. “It’s just that there is no reason for me to live.”
“I would ask you if there are people who love you and whom you love,” he said. “But I’ve met them, and they love you very devotedly… they show the kind of love that must be in return for a very strong love from you… two of your children, too.” Niku was on the ship, so Vriah and Roshten must have been, too, and they’re here… I cursed inwardly. I hope they’re keeping Vriah far, far away. “You have how many in all?”
“Six,” I said. “Four blood-children and two shadow-children, as we Yeolis say.”
“Really,” he said. “I thought there was a law, two only… oh, it was relaxed because Yeola-e lost so many in the war, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, but also the semanakraseye is exempt,” I said.
“You are sharing life with these people who love you, and raising all those children… how can you say there is no reason for you to live?”
“It’s traditional for a chiranyerai to be kept apart from his children, mostly, if they remain in the line of succession,” I said. “I can live with them, but I can have no hand in their education… so much of what I would want to say to them, I can’t.” He had an odd look on his face, I thought. “These are the traditions. I am tainted, from now on.”
“But you can still love them,” he said. “Chivinga, how important was your father to you?”
That made me feel something. It was like being stabbed through the heart, the pain like a real blade. Tears came so hard it was as if my heart-arteries ran straight to my eyes. I felt him pull me to sitting and enwrap me hard in his arms only distantly. “Keep going until it’s fully spent,” he commanded me, as if my emotion was somehow crucially important. “Let all of it out.”
Inside and apart from my grief, I was happy that my father was dead, as I never had been before. He’d been spared seeing me like this—or, worse, the same thing happening to him, had it been him who’d been sent to conquer Arko with the same mandate. I bled out tears and cries until I was numb and silent, like a husk. He laid me back down, looking into my eyes measuringly.
In his judgment I could take more talk-healing, it seemed, because he asked me why the tears. I told him about Tennunga’s assassination.
“You know, then,” he said, “what your children would suffer if you died.”
What they will suffer, when I die. “Yes.”
It went like this the rest of that day; it seems like a full day in my memory though it could have been only an aer at best. It was all on things that should make life worthwhile: what position I might be offered, once my people had given me time to rest; my war-training; what I liked to do for the pure joy of it. He never argued with me, really, just asked the questions and made the points in his gently-urging, absolutely non-condemning way. I felt none of it touch or convince me.
“How does it strike you,” he asked, “the idea of never having sex again?” Of course, since I was a man, he thought this would be the crowning argument.
“It would be a shame,” I said, “but there would be no point.”
“Other than pleasure?”
I was honest, as I had been throughout. “There is no point in pleasure.”