No surprise to me, Vriah happened to wander in about then. Between the two of them, they asked me all the crucial questions with precocious sense. How sure was I, could I prevent it, who else knew, why had I kept it secret, how did I feel about it and so forth. I made very sure they knew they could speak to Grandma Karani, Niku or Kallijas about it.
Vriah spoke her heart in her water-drop-clear way: “I’ll miss you, Aba.” But there was no devastation in it, as if the spiritual view was second nature to her. Lakans and senaheral alike will tell you that children, having only recently arrived from the Eternal Return, still remember it well.
They went through the phases like anyone else; sometimes there were tears and tantrums, even as they faithfully kept it secret. But children are resilient like rubber, soon accepting all that comes as threads in the cloth of life. Perhaps we pretend to ourselves that our children do not know death or bereavement, but of course they do, especially in Yeola-e after the Arkan War.
I would die, it was meant to be, and so they came asking more questions, as they did about every other circumstance of life. “You’re not sick, Daddy, and it’s peacetime… you think it’s going to be a moyawa accident? Or someone ’sassinating you?” “If you’re a ghost, can you come back and haunt us?” “Who are you going to leave everything to?” “When are we going to tell Kila and Kima?” “Are you scared? We can hold you.”
It was pain and balm both at once to my soul. No adult would ever speak of such things with me so forthrightly. It banished the shadows of secrecy, and let me be accepted in my entirety for once in my life, while they were with me. Beyond that, we all got on with the business of life, enjoying each other’s company while we had it. Tawaen and Vriah even urged the other kids, without saying why, to be with me. They will be thanked for that.
To: Chevenga Aicheresa
From: Inatalla Shae-Krisa
Marble Palace, Arko
I write to inform you of plans for a most impressive project in the City of Arko that is being undertaken in your honour. The loyal Yeoli residents of Arko, among whom I am pre-eminent, have inspired your sister the Imperator to raise a mighty image of you, so that the native citizenry of the City Itself may never forget Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e and all he stood for. It will stand at the head of the Avenue of Statuary, ten man-lengths high and built of solid bronze, with not a seam showing as we will hire Zak metallurgists, and plentiful gold.
For your pleasure, I have enclosed the plan rendered by the sculptor, the peerless Tujiras Oren. I anticipate with delight the feeling that must swell in your heart as you read this.
Sincere best wishes,
I opened the other paper, and felt a shock of weakness in my core that spread out into prickles all down my limbs, then sweat breaking out on my skin, all over. It was the statue I’d seen in the nightmare, towering over fat and over-jewelled Yeolis being carried around in chairs, the night I’d received the papers on the resolution to invade Arko. The pose with Chirel upraised, the expression, the massive plinth, the gold on wristlets, belt, sword-grip, it was all precisely the same. The nightmare was not fear, as I told myself back then, I thought. It was foreknowledge.
There were numbers, too; he was telling me how much it would cost. For an amount that could feed the poor quarter for a year, they would make me loom menacingly over the city, reminding the people forever of the Sack. I could just see Inatalla laughing, “Chevenga will help us oppress Arko whether he wants to or not.” Where were they going to get this money—divert it from the schools, the sewers, the orphanages? Or wring more out of Arkans in taxes?
Of course he anticipated with delight the feeling that would swell in my heart; he knew kyashin well what it was. He’d come to me with several ideas of this kind while I’d been Imperator, all of which I’d said no to, telling him not to be ridiculous. Inatalla, you pig-worm, I thought, you think I’m not going to write to Artira and stop this? But he had to expect that, I realized. Such confidence that she wouldn’t listen to me… was it because he was right? Another wave of sweat broke out as I thought, She didn’t ask me... why didn’t she ask me?
I considered travelling to Arko, but a letter would get there faster, since by this time the A-niah were relaying mail. The cursed thing could be announced publicly any day, and then it would be a hundred times harder for her to cancel it. I tore a fresh sheet out of the paper-packet, grabbed up my pen and whipped it out right then. I spared no strength of wording; the gist of it was, “My sister, if you love me, you’ll nix this.” Yes, it was using a personal bond for political influence; but one’s likeness is a personal thing, too. I thought of sending a copy to the Pages as well, but decided against. If it were public, she’d be more likely to dig in her heels, and could make more convincingly the argument that a chiranyerai was interfering.
I asked her to answer preliminarily by pigeon. An eight-day passed with no answer. She’s angry at me, I thought. I sent a pigeon, asking if she’d received the letter. Another eight-day passed, so I sent another pigeon, and started making up my mind to go. A day later, Esora-e, who’d come up to the Independent for dinner, came stamping with grey eyes sparking into the clock-room, where Kallijas and I were. (By then the word had gone around that I collected time-pieces, a rumour that made itself true when people began giving them to me.) “Fourth Chevenga Shae-Ar—Chevenga Aicheresa! You preening little gamecock with a thousand thousand toady flatterers, how in sheep-brains did you talk Artira into this?” He smacked the latest Enchian Pages down on the table.
Kall said something to Esora-e with a voice of ice, Esora-e answered back with fire, and their yammering faded into the distance while I read. Artira had announced the statue. Inatalla had not even written that they’d tear down two University buildings to make the space; of course, at the head of the Avenue of Statuary, they’d have to. There was no mention of protest; was it too early? No man-on-the-street, either. Deep voices rose; I looked up and saw my alesinas and my shadow-father glaring at each other as if they were a bare moment away from blows.
“Shadow-father, the hawks conceived this, not me,” I said. “I can show you Inatalla’s letter to me telling me, and a copy of the letter I sent to Artira with my very strong charcoal. I told no one because I was hoping to head it off. You owe me, and Kall, an apology.” He gave it through teeth grit as hard as if he had lockjaw.
It was a sickly quiet dinner, except for the tantrum Rojhai threw, probably in the hope of distracting us all. My own food went down cold as day-old offal.
“It’s not as if we can’t make a fuss,” Skorsas said cheerily, despite his and Kall’s confusion as to why the statue bothered me. “We’ve got money; we’ve even got a spawn-press. If you come out against it publicly, how can they go through with it?” He, Kall and Niku made plans, to write letters, to print tracts, to make speeches. I only half-heard; I was reading my Arkan copy of the Pages, and a streak of cold was creeping slowly up through my heart. The Pages opinion on the statue, favouring it, had been written by no writer; only bureaucrats have such a dead style. But it was signed Nil Kinnian.
When we were done eating and cleaning up, I told them all I was going out onto the mountain, for peace of mind, and I’d be a while. I put on the hooded robe, and went down to Terera, to look first in the Terera Pages office and second in Rirara’s. Shemeya was in the tavern, at a table with four or five others, singing raucously along with the bard who was on that night. I beckoned him, and, knowing my build, I guess, he got up fast and came over. He was staggering drunk.
Kaf was becoming as cherished a vice in Yeola-e as in Arko these days, but it could be a blessing. I bought a cupful of it and begged a cupful of cold water, had him down the kaf and splashed the water in his face. “I need you at least a little more sober,” I said. “Remember when I would not let you tell me something you were worried about in Arko, after I’d given you quotes for the federation story?”
“Yesh,” he said. “Try someone in Assembly, you shhaid. Assh if.”
“I’ve changed my mind. Tell me.”
“Oh?” He looked at me blinking and wavering, curse you, my ex-semanakraseye, come into focus. “But ssshhe doeshn’t lisshen to you. So you can do nothing. Shhevenga Off-The-Record Aissshhheressha.”
I reached down to grab up a double-handful of gutter-water, and flung it in his face. “I changed my mind about that, too. Tell me! What the fik happened?”
He ham-handedly wiped gutter-water, which of course is not all water, out of his eyes. “You really want to know?” I started to bend down again and he said, “Fine, fine! Fffik you. I got a note with no name. ‘Assh was done to him will be done to you, if you do the shhame again.’ I was thinking, what the fik? when Foranassh didn’t come in, and the kid Intharassh sent to find him came back white and shaking. You know how the sshhtory about his death shaid it was an accident? Sh’not true. He was murdered.”
My heart turned to ice, making all the rest of my body do the same. It was all I could do to form words. I remembered the story they’d done together about what Inatalla had said to me after I’d executed Kamina. I remembered the vindication I’d felt.
“In what language,” I made myself rasp, “was the note?”
“Sshhevenga…” He looked into my eyes, and I saw his brows peak with concern, albeit drunken. He put his hands on my shoulders. “Come back to Rirara’ssshh with me. Do the sshame as I’m doing, drink it all away.”
I grabbed his shoulders, shook him hard. “What language?” He let his head drop forward, his eyes leaving mine, his hands going lax on my shoulders.
“Yeoli,” he whispered.
The emotion that was seizing me, shredding and freezing my body at once from the inside, I realized was grief. On Haiu Menshir, finally, I found peace, I thought. With the help of so much love from my people, to build that beautiful place for me, I brought it back here. I have thrived on it, and watched my family thrive on it, too.
It was so good.
Pages story on the statue in full in Eclipse Court: here.