763 - So you know not to take it personally
The first problem struck me just as I passed through the gate where you leave your weapons, and began looking for a tavern. I had fought against the Lakans, won fifty Mezem fights and conquered Arko, but I had never started, or even been in, a tavern-brawl in my life. I had no idea how to do it.
Did you just go in and deck someone, who was just sitting there innocently drinking? How did you decide who; whoever was ugliest, or said something stupid, or looked at you unpleasantly—what if that was because his mother had just died? Or did you go in and challenge someone? Or all of them? What if no one took you up on it, either out of fear or sense?
After I stood wrestling with this all for a while, the nature of my difficulty came to me. I was planning much too soberly. Tavern-brawls are always fought by people who are pickled too stupid not to fight them. The first step was to get drunk.
In the place I went into, everyone already seemed fairly well into their cups, so I would fit right in. “Which self-induced poison will you have, sweetheart?” the serving-woman asked me, and I realized: I was no longer semanakraseye. I had to pay for it, and I had not so much as a copper link. This would be so for the rest of my life... who was paying my healer bills? I realized it had to be Skorsas. How much was that cutting into his fortune?
She saw the green ribbon then. “Love, I’ll give you one on the house, if you promise me you’ll go back to the House and your healer afterward.” I signed chalk, thinking afterward means after I’m done what I’m going to do. It was the cheapest plonk they had; she could not know I’d tasted what an Imperator drinks. Even so, I quaffed it, thanked her and left. A place with such kindness in it didn’t deserve mayhem at my hands.
Next, though it gets a little hazy, I remember a rougher place. One of its huge, brawny peacekeepers, nationality indeterminate but perhaps half Srian and half Enchian, laid a heavy hand on my shoulder and ordered me to leave, which I found annoying. “I’ll be entirely honest with you,” I said, as I have always held that honesty is always best, “I am carrying a great deal of buried anger, which my healer tells me I need to release. I admit, I came in here to do that. I’m telling you this so you know not to take it personally.” The next thing I remember is seeing him lying sprawled unmoving on the dirt floor, and everyone else in the place suddenly jumping up shouting.
It gets much hazier from there. I remember the hot pleasure of my own body’s motion, the impacts on my fists, pain-yells and joy-whoops all around, wood cracking, a cup smashing on a stone floor, wild laughter. Between comers, I snatched up half-empty cups left on tables and gulped them down, so as to stay drunk. I remember wondering, as the fighting spread all over the quarter, what anger everyone else had kept buried. Many of those I fought had knives, hidden or obvious, even a sword or two; much to their credit, none but a handful pulled a blade on me.
It came to the point where I was having to chase them; no one would stand and fight me. In the way drunkenness sometimes makes the hearing acute, I made out very clearly someone saying, “That can’t possibly be Chevenga… but by the Gods, he looks like him.” I ended up down at the harbour, by a familiar-looking pier; I’d fought here before, though for sacred reasons, which I no longer had the right to claim. There was something that had not been here before, a block of stone a good waist-high, so I vaulted up onto it to declaim.
Now the crowd hailed me mockingly, raising flagons. That was where Perahin, two Haian peacekeepers and four of my guards with stun-darts found me; I guess I made it easy.
“Stand down, don’t stun-dart me, I’m in no danger and I’m not finished,” I commanded them. “Perahin might gain some insights from what I say that will help him talk-heal me.” He stood drop-jawed for a moment, then whipped out his notepad. Haian psyche-healers sleep with them, I think.
Thus, though I remember only the feel of what I said, I have a transcript. And I am writing under the oath of the scrivener, which requires not lying by omission as well as commission. Judge me as you will.
“I am the semanakraseye of war, the Imperator of destruction! Every duel in the world, I am the Ring-fighter; every battle, I am the army; my hands have killed and died a thousand thousand times! When ten thousand Lakans died writhing in Kantila, I was the poison! When Arko burned, I was the flames! It was I who brought the Arkans who came here breaking the World Compact to conquer this peace-sacred place! Wherever people turn mad against each other, I am; wherever blood pumps out into the dust, my heart beats! Fight me, child-rapers, barbarians, lily-livered cowards; fight me if you dare even to call yourselves human, accept death at my hands and deal me death at yours a thousand thousand times again, if you can!”
There was much more of the same, until the crowd started to wander away and, gauging the feel of the people as I know how to do, I knew I should finish. My emotion was run out anyway. I took a bow and blew them kisses, they applauded me enthusiastically, and I jumped down off the stone to join Perahin and the others, who quickly grabbed my arms. A whim made me glance back at it and catch a bit of the Enchian part of the inscription, and I burst out laughing. It was the commemorative stone for the Battle of Haiu Menshir.
I learned later that no one had been killed. Perahin in part blamed himself for getting me to swear not to harm only myself, not anyone else. I also learned that for the next day or two debate raged all over Sailortown, some swearing that the rampaging lunatic was Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e, others scoffing, insisting that no one so far gone could possibly be him. Let the dispute be settled: no, it was not Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e. It was Chevenga Aicheresa.
The moment we were back in the house, they slapped the restraints on me, which was only justice, so I didn’t resist it. Regret hit the moment I sobered up, and I wondered if I’d ever quit being chained to that wheel, act and regret, act and regret. How long will it be before the evil I do in my life outweighs the good, and the credit of love I have earned runs out, if it hasn’t already?
There was a lawsuit; a number of people who’d gotten bruises or black eyes or their chimes rung, as well as publicans whose windows had been smashed or chairs broken, joined together to sue the House of Integrity—not me, since I was incompetent—for having allowed me to get loose. When I saw the papers, anger of a different flavour came up hard. It’s a subtle breaking of the World’s Compact to bilk Haians.
I remembered well enough to know I’d just been in the two taverns, otherwise out in the street and nowhere near three others I’d supposedly laid waste to, and people were whining that they deserved ankaryel for hurts like a warrior gets every day in training. It was a lot of ankaryel, total; I could see from Perahin’s face that they’d never had anything like this before, and paying out the whole would be serious hardship for the House.
“All-Spirit be my spiritual witness and you Perahin of Kibir my worldly witness I Chevenga Aicheresa swear I will harm no one second Fire come if I am forsworn,” I said to him, holding my crystal. “Now let me out of these and Skorsas and I will deal with this. The House isn’t going to pay a single copper bit.” He freed me, and neither Perahin or any other Haian said anything about me being incompetent. “With my healer bills, can we afford this, even talking them way down?” I asked Skorsas as soon as we were alone.
“Yeola-e and Haiu Menshir are splitting your healer bills, in gratitude,” he said to me. “And not a peep out of you about why they shouldn’t.” I made none, struck speechless. “In fact… well, Perahin said you were maybe not ready to hear this, but I think you are. You are very rich now, by Yeoli standards, and I don’t mean me holding it for you, I mean you, because you are now allowed. A lot of people, knowing you had nothing to your name, have sent you money.” A little later, he added, “Jewel of the World, close your mouth before you start catching flies, and steady your mind; we have some idiots to smack.”
I steadied my mind by forgetting everything he’d said except the gist, which was that we could afford this. In a place in Sailortown where drinks are not served, we sat down with the plaintiffs. After I chewed them out for the kyash they were doing to the House of Integrity, and they said “You should be chained to a post,” and “Where I come from we lock people like you into a bricked pit and throw the key in the sea,” we hammered out a settlement for about a fifth of what they’d asked, which was still generous.
As one of the publicans asked me, “How is a crazy scruff like you going to pay all that?” Skorsas, who always has sense and thus had had the sense to dress plainly rather than his usual Fortunate Fifty style, wrote the scrip for the full amount right under his nose. All through this, I had never said my name and they’d never asked it, but of course Skorsas’s name in Enchian was on the paper. As we rose to leave, they were speechless. I said nothing, nor looked back.
That night I dreamed. I am led in restraints to a pit lidded with a steel grille and lined with brick, and lowered into it. As the lock clicks shut they tell me the key will be passed to a sea-captain, who will sail out into the great ocean to the west called the Lannic, where there are parts as deep as a mountain is high, since the judge (Yeoli, since I am Yeoli) has decreed that nowhere in the Miyatara is deep enough to throw my key.
But someone has slipped a note into my hand; managing to read it I see, “I voted charcoal,” and a pattern of bricks to be tapped. It is signed First Amitzas Mahid. I do it, and a secret door springs open. It leads into the servant’s passages of the Marble Palace.
I keep walking, being passed by servants carrying bundles, pots, cleaning things and so forth, each greeting me as I greet them and seeing nothing untoward in my being there. The restraints are gone. I realize I am following farm animals, which also no one sees as being out of the ordinary: three chickens keeping up a steady prattle of clucking, a pig snuffing the floor, a contentedly-plodding cow, all of them pure white. When it finally strikes me what that means, I realize I am out of practice.
Mella looks down at me, and takes me by the shoulders in Her strong, work-callused hands. “Tell them you can bear to read the letters,” She says. “Yes, quit looking around as if there’s someone else here, it’s you, Shefenkas, I am talking to. Tell your loves to show you the letters. They have the best of them.” I woke up. It was the death-hour. My loves breathed gently in sleep around me. “Wake them up. It’s important.” I kissed Kallijas’s shoulder and whispered, “I don’t know what this means, love, but a Goddess just told me to ask you to show me the letters, that I can bear it.”
“Mm,” he said sleepily, in a way that showed he knew what it meant. We crept out of the bed and he led me by the hand into the great-room of the leaf-house, lit a lamp and opened a satchel with a stack of papers carefully packed in it.
I cannot bring myself to quote what I remember. I was on the floor, my eyes rivers, before he’d got through two or three of the Arkan ones, but he kept going. He woke Niku to read Yeoli ones. I writhed as if I were being tortured, but they kept reading. I felt as if I would die, but they kept reading until I stopped writhing, and my tears dried, and I lay feeling so drained there was nothing left to me but the truth of this, so I could no longer turn from it.
From then on, I stopped fighting healing.