757 - I have been where you are
But we had more to do, we realized, Merao. The songbird is out of the cage, as they say in Arko. With Yeoli bureaucrats knowing, it’s only a question of whether the Pages has “Shefenkas on Haiu Menshir” the next issue or the one after. You’ve probably read this, but: once they realized we’re not in Vae Arahi, Intharas mentioned in an editorial that he’s assigned one of his hounds to find us. At least he has the decency to announce it, unlike, say, the Mahid.
Hahaha… you know how you get those momentary fears, something that was ground in so much in the past it sometimes spits its ink like a squid into the present? I just had one. “He’s on Haiu Menshir, what if the Arkans send more ships or more Mahid?” Hahahaha. They won’t.
He will still need to be guarded, though. Skorsas inspired Kall, it seems, because he said, “Let’s not bother with the Yeolis this time. I think Setaforas will send us forty Arkan elite if I just ask. I just need a pigeon; Arkan embassy, forward march!”
“With all due respect, kras, I’m going to the Niah embassy,” I said. “I can get Suku, Baska and Ada to quit sunbathing so much and do more scouting, but they’re not enough. Breicia will send us ten flyers.”
They will come through; we’re all certain. Because however much Yeola-e forgets Chevenga, the rest of the world never will. Ironic, isn’t it? My pehali will be protected by some of the straw-haired tyrant-worshippers he conquered and the chocolate-skinned savages his shadow-father and other Yeoli snots didn’t want him to tie himself to. But not a single one of his own, who he loves so totally he sacrificed his sanity for them and would give them his life in an eye-blink.
I had noticed that I had not only a green ribbon around my wrist, but a red cord too, made of some satiny stuff, and with the ends burned together, not tied. Curious, I pulled on it, positioning my hands in their restraints so that I could get my two end fingers under it. A gently-increasing pull did nothing, so I tried all my strength. That did nothing, too. Was I going to wear this the rest of my life?
Perahin would not tell me what it meant, saying only, “It’ll come off when we transfer you to the House of Integrity” and otherwise stonewalling me.
I found out from my mother. “It means if you’re outside, anyone who sees you must report it and you’re arrested on sight, whether you’ve managed to get the restraints off or not.”
Because if I went outside, it would be to kill myself, obviously; what other reason could there be? I told myself not to be sarcastic; they were Haians, their minds always full of safety. “Really?” I said. “I wouldn’t go outside without getting the restraints off, so how do they propose to arrest me?”
She laughed, and touselled my hair. “There’s the Chevenga I know. I was wondering that myself. But they know you well enough this time around to enlist the help of Kallijas and Niku, so they’ll jump you first. The guards they’ve sent for, I wouldn’t put past stun-darting you.” She tweaked my chin. “So think twice, my child.”
“If I concoct any escape plans,” I said, “I’ll be sure not to let you know.” She laughed and touselled my hair again.
I tell out of order. I remember Kall’s first shift. He was replacing Skorsas in the early morning. Half-asleep, I felt his arm under my head and his lips on my cheek, then my eyebrow, and his touch still felt good. As I woke, it turned into a curse again, burning. Asleep, I’d nuzzled in; now I pulled away, though I did it gently, to be polite.
“Sheng.” He reached under the covers, drew my bound hands up from under them, extended the two fingers of his sword-hand and brought them close to mine.
I couldn’t refuse to return it, touching my two fingers to his. Pain so hard it was crushing seized me. He tightened his arm around my head so I could not get away, keeping my hand pinned in the gesture.
“Shh, Sheng, it’s all right,” he whispered. “Remember it. Always remember it, my love. No matter what happens now, you will always have done that. That perfect moment will always have been. Shh, son of Aras, Living Greatest, best warrior in the world. What has happened to you now undoes none of your other victories, none of your brilliant stratagems, none of your astonishing deeds that are pictured and storied and sung, nothing of the great campaign you led. It undoes none of the good you have done for Arko as Imperator; it doesn’t enchain the slaves again, or take away the women’s new freedom, or force every Arkan to swallow what he wants to say all the time again. All the good you have done in the world remains, Sheng, and will always be remembered. Never let yourself forget.”
I cried so hard I was all but screaming. I wasn’t even certain why; he’d spoken nothing but truth. But it reached in very deep, in that way I can only describe again as beautiful. Expressing pain so pure is exquisite. I wept like that for a long time, in his arms with our doubled fingers touching. When I was done, he said, “Perahin says we should leave the talk-healing to him, we shouldn’t try to tell you things to help. But there’s something I have to tell you. I have been where you are.”
Shock broke me out of the after-fog. “What? Kall, no, you can’t have been, All-Spirit, no… when?”
“It happens to you and it’s nothing; it happens to me and it’s a terrible thing,” he said. “Do you see that, Sheng?” I thought my heart would fall out of my chest with relief. It didn’t really happen, he’s just saying it as a chiravesa.
“Cast out of my life’s purpose,” he said. “Exiled from who I am. It was when I was staying with Sukala.” I clenched so hard again inside that I gasped. He was stuck there, helpless, while I conquered his nation. “I sat on the edge of a cliff… for a long time. Making up my mind to throw myself off.” I wanted to wrap my arms around him like steel; I settled for grabbing one of his hands between mine. “What did I have to live for? What could there be, ahead of me?”
“You? There was so much!” I said. “Kall… thank you, thank you, for not doing it. And I’m sorry.” I never wanted to let his hand go, ever.
“Oh no no no, don’t make it into your fault. It was Abatzas’s. You’d have let me go. There was so much, even in the short time since … funny, it was about four years.”
I turned my face away from him, burying it in his chest. “You’re welcome, Sheng. As I love you.” I couldn’t speak, or perhaps there was nothing I could say that I should say. He just held me in silence, except to say once, “Will you please ease up on the grip, Sheng? You’re hurting my wrist.” At least that gave me appropriate words to say: “Sorry, love.”
Finally I said the only other appropriate words I could think of. “What cured you of it?”
Of course; why had I even asked? “What did she say?” Maybe her wisdom could pass through him and so reach me.
“She said… well, she said many things. Mostly… that life had not died in me and should not. And she… showed me… that life had not died in me…” I looked at his face. He was blushing, moderately.
“Showed you that life had not died in you, how?”
He blushed a deeper pink. “I’ve given away too much already,” he said. “An Aitzas should never stain a sera’s honour…”
I thought my jaw would fall off my face. “You had sex with Sukala!??” He blushed to a shade not far from his armour.