185 - I can quit dunning the Gods’ ears for your life
Out of the corner of my eye I had noticed more gold than usual in the Assembly Hall gallery, but my mind had been so fixed on the Servants that I hadn’t looked. As the bell was struck to adjourn, I did, and Kallijas waved down at me. He was sitting with Minis and Laisa Si Rusa, to whom he was betrothed now. I’d known they would come for my asa kraiya ceremony, but not that they’d be so early. Probably Amanas was running Arko.
Of course the writers hemmed me in in the chamber anteroom. “I can’t stay long, I’m sick, I should really be in bed,” I said, then told them fast, in my quote-me voice, how a full-nation vote would be the best way to truly settle the concerns of the people and so I welcomed it with all my heart. Then Kall elbowed his way through and I flung myself into his arms. “Gods, I missed you, Gods, I love you,” I said, over and over.
“Same with me,” he said. “I’ve wanted a thousand thousand times to talk to you… Sheng, you are burning.” Skorsas was suddenly there, wrapping his arm firmly around mine. “He is. Bed, Virani-e. Krero’s going to ride you up, no arguments.”
“None to that, love,” I said; the thought of the walk was daunting. “But I must speak to some people; I won’t be long.”
It is unseemly for a semanakraseye to thank, or even be seen to thank, the members of a Committee who’ve found favourably towards him personally; I could thank them for their diligence and the understanding with which they’d treated me, though, and I made sure I was no less grateful to those who’d voted ways or said things I hadn’t liked, even Linasika.
“Bit of a relapse?” Omonae asked me, though with good humour, touching his own forelock to mean the pitiful remains of mine. “Don’t psyche-healers say, the breakthrough comes after the breakdown?” I said, and told him how I had been able to sincerely say ‘I deserve to live’ right after. He hugged me in congratulation for that.
So now the trial of the street and the dinner-table would begin in earnest. The findings were the plausible best result, but I couldn’t pretend to myself that I’d come away unmarked. A Committee of the Assembly of Yeola-e had found that there was something amiss, about which something should be done. The brushes with death I’d given myself, once seen as due to circumstances or understandable emotion, had now been officially deemed a habit. Even if—when—it was declared that I had overcome it, there’d be whispers, and someone would grab my arm if I put my toes over a cliff-edge, probably for the rest of my life. As well I had been convicted of breaking part of the law that applies to the semanakraseyesin itself; that mark was on me too. That was my reality; I just had to accept it.
“You look different,” Kall said, after I’d made the best greetings I could to Minis, Kyriala and Laisa, bathed in the cool pool while he did in the hot tub, and climbed into bed. Skorsas already had their guest-rooms all ready, in style, of course. “You look lighter, somehow… brighter. Easier.”
“My body feels like lead, and my head dull as mud,” I said. “I’m sorry to welcome you like this, when what I truly want to do, and I know you truly want me to, is fik you stupid.” I’d missed his cherry-sweet blush, of which he provided a fine example now. “I have to be well enough before you go, because I have to be well enough for my ceremony, though, so, something to look forward to.”
“I’m seeing it through the sickness, love,” he said. “It’s in your spirit.”
“Maybe you’ve caught aura-seeing from Surya.” He laughed, and laid the back of his hand against my face. His touch was deliciously cool, the gold of the Imperial Seals like drops of cold water. I leaned into it and closed my eyes.
“A lot has happened,” he said. I looked; he ran his eyes over the new shutters, with clear approval. “I knew you were thinking of taking a new name; I didn’t know people were calling you it. Vi… Vir… how is it pronounced?”
I taught him. “But I answer to both. I don’t mind you calling me ‘Sheng.’ It brings back nothing but good memories.”
“And so many new scars… that little shen-eating son-of-the-Mangler, he wouldn’t have touched a hair of you if I’d been there.” He caressed a few of them, as if he could undo the pain I had felt with each. I remembered then: I was assigned to tell him that I’d been in the habit of thinking myself loved only if I died young.
Kahara… why? It’s going to do nothing but upset him. Kall was not having an easy time of it, refusing to let himself settle into the Crystal Throne; when an Arkan feels unworthy, it’s to the bone. “You’re just doing the work, because someone must, like any other work,” I kept writing to him in letters, to no avail, at least so far. He also pushed himself, working into the night, following my bad example. And he’d just had four days of flying, always exhausting. Being told this is the last thing he needs.
I could almost hear Surya’s voice. Excuses; you’re afraid. It’s an order. I took a deep breath. “Kall… there’s something I must tell you.” But I’m sick; I should do nothing difficult… I suddenly felt worse. Fear can be so devious. I took a deep breath again. “Kall… you know how, in bed, I like…” I crossed my wrists, he blushed, and I recounted how the visit with Surya had gone. “All my life, I’ve never really accepted love, except... kyash. This was so hard to tell Niku, and so hard to tell Skorsas; you’d think the third time, it would be easy.”
“Take your time, love.” He stroked my brow. It felt more intensely good than usual, as loving touch always does when you are ill, the coolness like magic.
“Except that I told myself, I will die young,” I whispered, as if it were secret from anyone else who was close enough to hear. He gave a slow soft gasp. “I am worthy of it only if I do that.”
“Like payment… You could take it only... oh, Sheng!”
“I know that’s completely insane.” He threw off his robe, slid under the covers besides me and seized me in his arms, pressing all of his blessedly cool self against all of me. Tears burned in my eyes. “I was in effect slinging it back in everyone’s teeth. Refusing what they gave me. Including you. I’m sorry.”
“Sheng, no. Don’t apologize. You didn’t mean to do that. I just want to show you… in the best way I can, but Kaninjer would have my ears, I know. When you’re stronger…” His eyes took on a touch of mischief. “I bet that’s what Skorsas and Niku did, hmm?”
“Of course. Since then, I’ve… well, it’s part of what’s making me, as you said, lighter.” I told him about the night I’d gone up on the mountain, and come back down feeling I deserved to live.
He raised his fist in the victory-sign when I got to that part. “Yes! You’ve done it, and I can quit dunning the Gods’ ears for your life.”
“I deserve to live... it’s just the same as that, when Surya puts me in the auric truth-drug hold. No harder. I deserve to live.”
He tightened his arms. “I love you. Vi-ra-ni-he. Integrity. It suits you.” He let a slow smile cross his face. Very few are those who have ever seen the bedroom eyes of Kallijas Itrean. I have been honoured beyond honour.
“I love you too. I can’t tell you how desperately my soul wants you, even as my body feels no more than stone. I say everything has changed, but that hasn’t. The bad things have changed; the good things are the same. No—they’ve changed too. They are better.”
Moving as if from one mind, as we did, we touched the edges of paired fingers together.
“Maybe you’ll be well enough that we can spar before I go back to Arko.”
“Wait until after my asa kraiya ceremony, and I’ll be able to whip you with one hand tied behind my back. Or so I’m told.”
“We’ll see about that.” He pulled me into him, and I slid my head onto his shoulder, pressing my brow into his cheek. “I know it’s early, not even dinner yet, but I don’t want to let go of you. I’ll hold you until you sleep.” He kissed between my eyes. “Relax, my love.” I did, falling into him and sleep as if into deep cool water.