187 - Habit creates a strange sort of loyalty
30 Navim 4980 | Vae Arahi
It is early morning on the day of Chevenga’s, or, I should say, Virani-e’s, asa kraiya ceremony, and I find myself disbelieving it. I can’t imagine he’s not going to suddenly change his mind and go back among the warriors who’ve accused him of treason and accept their embraces and start that violent training again, that fills his eyes with the same fire as he gets before going into battle, but banked.
This is even after checking him and finding the feel of his life-energy completely changed… I don’t know how to describe it except that it’s smooth where I didn’t even know it was jagged, or flat like a calm sea where there was always storm and waves before. That was right after he had his final crisis, a quarter-moon ago. It’s stayed that way ever since, even as he felt, in his own words, “sick as a dog” as the affliction came out.
I was lying awake before I got up to write this and I couldn’t stop remembering moments. Like me being pounded up and down on the back of an Arkan horse in front of Chevenga, hearing the whistling of his sword through the air and the scream of an Arkan dying… Chevenga casually picking blood out from under his fingernails with the broken end of a twig while he dictates a letter… Chevenga happy and laughing and on his toes as his squires help him arm and armour for battle… Chevenga on the pier in Tinga-e with the ornate brass bead-clock clicking away the lives of another group of Arkan prisoners, slashing to pieces the abdomen of one of them without a thought… Chevenga watching thin-lipped as horses pull Arkan prisoners apart… Chevenga laughing drunkenly in the Marble Palace, unbathed so blood is drying on him, greeting me with a big grin as Arko is raped and killed and burned around him. And so many, many more.
It’s as if some part of me is locked in those times, and wants to throw up arguments as to why it can’t change. I guess it is because I lived them so vividly. They’re etched in my memory and so don’t want to dislodge, like traumas.
Or perhaps it’s because it seems so unbelievable to me that what I always wanted to tell him, and didn’t because of his position and circumstances so dictating against it so that he was in effect required not to hear, he just suddenly accepted as right, and acted on as fast and whole-heartedly as he acts on everything. Perhaps I somehow can’t easily accept that even in the face of such intense opposition, I was right. I was completely resigned to him ever being anything but a warrior to the bone. There is a lesson in that, I see; “Never say never,” as they say on the mainland. You cannot really know what is in a person’s mind and heart and spirit and therefore what they will do (unless you’re Surya, of course. He saw everything in advance.)
Despite so much weighing against this, Mamin, he’s going to do it. Tomorrow he’s going to undergo the ceremony in which he gives up being a warrior. Apparently some people change their minds at the last minute and flee it, but I am sure he won’t. I say that as the person who stitched and salved forty-two wounds on him, that he took because his hand refused to make his blade so much as scratch his enemy. He was asa kraiya then, both he and Surya say. The ceremony just finalizes it.
But it’s public, in part, as that fight was not. He’s getting up in front of the people he saved from Arko and saying, in effect, “If you need saving again, I’m not doing it. You counted on me when it could only be me, and I was there. But next time, I will not be.” It’s going to take the most extraordinary courage. But he will do it anyway because that is who he is now.
I have not told him because as his personal physician I am supposed to be detached, but I love him for it more than I can express. I’m writing this with tears in my eyes.
I did not sleep that night, the night before my ceremony, or more exactly my two ceremonies—commendation and asa kraiya.
A few times I tried to write, in my mind, the address that the crowd would demand after I was commended. No words came to me. What could I say? ‘Oh, All-Spirit, yes, I am Champion of the People now!’ ‘Thank you, I agree with you that I deserve this!’ ‘This is a fine thing, it is!’ ‘Vote for me!’ Perhaps I would just stand on the dais in surly silence until they gave up chanting, “Speech! Speech!” for the first time in Chatty Chevenga’s life. Perhaps I’d just say, ‘Sorry, I’m speechless.’
Fine, I decided: if I can’t do that, I’ll write the address I should give about going asa kraiya, that I’ll say just before I go up to the School of the Sword. Words failed me there, too. Not for the same reason, that the only ones I could think of seemed shamefully inappropriate; more that I couldn’t think of any at all. Why was I doing this? Not to save myself; I’d been set free of that. I had once not wanted to be a warrior, but then I’d been one, so what did it matter? Besides, what if I changed my mind; how embarrassing would that be, after the golden words I’d spew, touting the necessity and sanctity of asa kraiya?
I could change my mind, I thought. It’s just as he said; people sometimes even change their minds in the middle of the ceremony. Hurai and the others would welcome me back into their arms, and those who feared war again without me would be relieved. I was more likely to be reinstated in a moon, too.
That’s fear of change talking. Don’t listen.
I was suddenly reminded of my mother telling me on Haiu Menshir, when my courage had deserted me and my morale was low as a worm’s belly, “That is a thought. It is not you.” What is me? I wavered between two realities: the one in which my name was carved across history in red, but only a short slash, and the other in which the vista of life lay long before me like a view of Selestialis, this delicious mystery called asa kraiya awaited, and I had a name under which I’d never commanded any killing.
You’d think the choice would be easy. But habit creates a strange sort of loyalty, like a child’s to his home. He clings because he knows it, and because he feels it is him. I can’t be that, the voice whispered in me. I’ve always been this.
What would Surya say? Nothing, at this point, I thought, except with his hand, ripping the sword out of me.
Even the trace of a thought of what that would feel like turned my guts to water. But sometime today it would be done. Surya had never said it was a point of no return, but it seemed like the most final point of no return possible.
And yet it is my choice. He has always said he cannot pull it out unless I let it go. Would I be able to choose that? Was I… healed or grown or learned or senahera enough?
I should roust him out of bed to ask him, I thought. He’s a healer, that’s why he’s there, isn’t it? But I imagined the brass handle by his door, that led to the chain and bell that would wake him, and thought, That’s for emergencies, such as suicidal urges, not the inane banal tepid mental meanderings of a patient pathetically quailing at what he chose long ago to do.
I thought of fighting Younger Riji again. I already was asa kraiya. All rendered moot by one perfectly-done heart-thrust by Kyirya, who’d cast me aside as a mentor. Has he been able to talk with someone else, since he no longer has me, about what it was to kill, what it meant? About the worth of the life he took? Has he made sense of it?
Would I have been able to help him make sense of it anyway?
So went my night, my mind flapping in circles like a moth trapped indoors, my body itchy and restless so I knew I must be disturbing my loves (how beautiful to have Kall beside me again). I went to the couch. I must have slept some, though it seemed like moments only, because I dreamed of another life. I smooth the gossamer of my gown down around my body, feeling its silkiness through my lace-backed gloves, and straighten the mask.
He did not come for sex, though, this worn-eyed Aitzas. He just wants to talk to someone with whom it is safe to, since if I repeated what he said publicly he could easily disavow it and then have me arrested and killed. “It’s just flesh flopping against flesh,” he says. “Skin rubbing against skin, only skin deep. Then an expulsion, like a pimple erupting. Maybe you have another son from it—grand, if that happens. Hire another nurse. I once thought it meant feeling more. It’s only women who aren’t supposed to feel anything. I dreamed my wife chopped off my cock with a glass knife. Is there something wrong with me?”
There’s no problem that cannot be solved by giving of ourselves, the Fenjitza teaches. The more completely we give, the greater problems we can solve. But how do I give myself to this dried bread-crust of a man? He frightens me. When will I stop being so young? Who is Imperator? Who asks? What kind of silly question is that? Everyone knows it’s Kurkas Aan.
Doma at the orphanage once said, ‘To understand men you have to understand swords. If you don’t understand swords, you won’t understand men.’ Made perfect sense, so I got a chip to go to the Mezem one day. I saw it, in all its glory. Swords plunging into flesh, thrusting into bodies.
There’s one brown-skinned savage who went in stark naked, and his thing rose as soon as he came out of his gate. He pulled on it all through his fight and when he won, jismed in the other man’s face and mouth as he died. They told me he does that every time. Mamafenj’, I think I do understand it; men go there so as not to be people. For this one it’s a bursting pimple. I’m just as happy to feel nothing there. Which Kurkas? Who are you and what sort of question is that? Fourteenth. What must being a Ring-fighter be like?
I opened my eyes to dawn.