001 - It was meant to be
asa kraiya [beyond the sword]
Being the separate memoirs of Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e that recount the events of his life in the year of Yeola 1556, and associated documents both complete and excerpted, compiled by the Workfast Literary of Yeola-e; Aletheya Athal, editor, Y. 1558
I wrote “This paragraph, it seems, is farewell.”
It wasn’t farewell, after all. Yet. My farewell would not come as I’d thought it would. Perhaps.
You think of me, I know, as having everything. My life is spun out of other people’s dreams.
At the start of that which I recount here, I was Imperator of Arko as well as semanakraseye of Yeola-e. I had command over more wealth than most could imagine; my name was known the world over, loved by allies, dreaded by enemies. I even had the simpler things: my health and strength, a good, large and mostly-peaceful marriage, four perfect children, a more beautiful house in Vae Arahi than I could ever have imagined living in, and the love of as many friends as anyone could want.
I could look back on my life and know I had prevailed in the face of the worst agonies and the gravest dangers; I could say honestly that, even if everyone hadn’t always agreed with what I had done, I had done it all well. What I was now doing—arranging to grant that empire back its independence, but with the vote now well enshrined in its laws and the citizens experienced in using it, the greatest defense against renewed tyranny—I could not help but take pride in. Who would not envy me for any part of it, let alone all?
But in my twenty-ninth year, when I would have thirty at the most, I would not have any of it much longer.
That which I recount here started, ironically enough, when I was training. On the sprawling roof of the Marble Palace (since an Imperator’s feet must not touch earth), under a hazy spring Arko-the-City sky, wearing loin-cloth and wristlets and Chirel on my shoulder, I practiced fighting along with fifty-odd other members of the Yeoli and Arkan elites.
It was just shy of Yeoli year-turn—in two days it would be 1556—and I was six moons or so into my second term as Imperator. By my old reckoning I had two years left to live, but Avritha of F’talezon had sent me her prophecy, Finish thy work before summer. It was always in the back of my mind.
I had an Arkan Assembly now, but that slowed other things down; I couldn’t just add to the Constitution, but had to consult with them on every clause, which made it take ten times as long. I had a date for the election for Imperator: verekina 86, or Anae 36 by the Arkan calendar, the last day before the year-end festival of Jitzmitthra, which would be six days since it was a leap year. For candidates I had three Arkan lords who all seemed most driven by personal ambition, and Kallijas, who was not truly willing and did not feel qualified. And a thousand thousand other things needed settling or solving.
Avritha’s words drove me out of bed every dawn when I felt like lazing, kept my eyes open past midnight when the writing before me began blurring and splitting into two in the lamplight, made me bolt my food if it was not a meal-meeting. I was not taking an easy run to last the distance, but sprinting, as always.
Once I was home, I would do the Kiss of the Lake, since I was due again, and then I’d be just semanakraseye, just the people-wills-one of Yeola-e, which I was born and trained for and grew into, which I have in my heart. No more faces with smiles of false admiration, currying favour; no more people flinging themselves face-first on the floor before me as this servant seeking my attention had done. It wasn’t even the prostration that bothered me the most; it was that an Arkan wouldn’t get up again until I said gehit, so that I was an accessory to his shame.
The wages of conquest.
How long would I have, at home? Not long—it would be summer then. But better than nothing.
“There is a Haian healer who begs that you deign to speak with her,” the servant told me. “I pray You Whose Whim is the Will of the World will forgive me for conveying her importunacy, but she wished it to be... immediately, as it is urgent, so she says. She says you know her, and she has come all the way from Haiu Menshir to say something to you. A matter of life and death, she says.”
All sweaty and sand-dusted from practicing killing—a fine sight for a visiting Haian—I took a splash from the water-flask and wondered whose life and death. It didn’t seem like Haian diplomatic business; they tended more to follow the protocols. I didn’t know many Haians aside from those who’d healed me from one thing or another. More than anything else, it sounded like someone somewhere needed saving on an informal basis, and if this Haian thought it was in my power, it probably was. I said, “Show her here.”
I threw some water over myself, towelled off, and met the healer at the roof-gate. I did know her, through having been needful of her services some years back on the island of healers.
“Megidan! What are you doing here—I thought you’d never leave Haiu Menshir again in your life. Especially to come here.” She was a full empath; her blessing to me was to help me remember the assassination of my father through my mother’s eyes—a horror, it may seem, but better than believing she had killed him, which my torturers had made me believe. For nine months she’d been kept prisoner in the Marble Palace dungeon, in punishment for this healing. How could she stand to return to Arko, or be on the mainland at all, with all the black and twisted things that are in our hearts?
“Fourth Chivinga!” She seized my hands, partly to demand my full attention, partly as if grabbing the gate-post of the long-traveled-for destination, to prove to herself that she really had got there. “You must listen to me, you must trust me. I have come here because I had a dream, a vision, about you. It said I must journey here, and refer you to another healer, whose name would come clear to me once I was here. It did, and here is his card. You must see him.”
Surya Chaelaecha, healer, I read. And his address; that was all. A Haian healer referring me to a Yeoli one?
“But, Megidan, I’m not sick. Why must I see him? What would I tell him?”
“I am sorry, Chivinga... the vision didn’t show me so much. He is a very powerful healer, perhaps you need tell him nothing.”
“Just, ‘Here I am, and I don’t know why, except that Megidan sent me’?”
I meant this half-jokingly, but she said, “That would do fine; he knows, he is expecting you.”
I stood thinking. This could hardly be an assassination attempt or some other skullduggery, not with Megidan involved. She certainly had no doubt of what she’d been enjoined to do, or of its importance, or its validity, else she wouldn’t be here, much less with so much anxiety that I might not agree to it pinching her kindly Haian face. Of course, if I said I’d see him while secretly deciding not to, she’d know.
“What of you?” I said. “Do you plan to tell me this and then turn straight around and sail back home?” She stared at me so taken aback, so obviously not having thought at all about what came next, that I couldn’t help but add, “I hope you’ll partake of our hospitality instead, at least for long enough to have made the journey worthwhile.”
“If you visit Surya, it will have been worthwhile even if I leave this moment.”
I read the card again, as if it had any answers. Surya Chaelaecha. Healer. 37 Bright Street, Fessas Quarter. By Appointment. No clue even as to what sort of healer he was. “So important that I go to this person. Why?”
She clasped my shoulders, pulled me close and whispered in my ear. “It is... please trust me, Fourth Chevenga, semanakraseye of Yeola-e, Imperator of Arko, trust me for the sake of yourself, of all who love you, of all the good you might yet do in the world. To save your life. No less.”
She was one who didn’t know—or at least, whom I hadn’t told. I could not know what precisely she knew, by feeling my feelings. The one I was having now, for instance, that came along with this thought: Save my life? That’s a hopeless prospect.
“He said whenever is good for you; he will clear time for you. You need only give the word. If you tell me now, I will convey it to him.”
“I... I don’t have my calendar here.” I found myself leading her down and into the Imperial office section, through the servants’ corridors; it wouldn’t do to have anyone see me unwashed and all but naked here. My secretary Binchera was still in, working late; he gave me an odd look, and let me know when I asked that I was booked solid, as always. Evenings, meals, festival days, everything; I was already down to one in four days training instead of every day, for which my fitness was suffering. The soonest free bead was a month and a half away.
Megidan pressed her face into her hands. “It is more urgent than that.”
The three of us all stared at each other, at a loss. I could see plain on Binchera’s face, curiosity as to what this was about, and a certain resignation that he would never be told.
“Spirit of Life rules in these things,” Megidan finally said, touching her pendant, the one in the form of a poppy that all Haians wear. “If it is meant to be, some time will open for you in the next few days, and let you see him then.” That settled that.
I told no one, not even Niku, Kallijas or Skorsas; I just said Megidan was here visiting, and got Skorsas to see her properly hosted for the night; she had decided to turn around and travel home the next day after all, no surprise. And I put it out of mind. I thought that might be hard, with such an odd and striking thing, but somehow forgot completely.
If it is meant to be. “Kahara kra” is how we Yeolis say it: All-Spirit wills. We say it every day, of course, but to trust to it so completely as Megidan had, journeying all the way from Haiu Menshir with such urgency, seemed foreign, at least to me. I have too much of a controlling cast of mind, perhaps; I tend to try to arrange things the way they should be, much more than let them go there of their own accord. For which I have been roundly criticized. Chevenga kra. Now the idea of kahara kra stuck in my mind, poking a thought through every now and then during the next two days, even as I forgot why.
I was scheduled for a three-bead afternoon meeting with a delegation from Korsardiana on constitutional matters three days later. The day before, they sent a pigeon begging to postpone, as their head delegate had suddenly taken ill. I would have filled the spot with some other Imperial business, except that Binchera asked me, “Didn’t that visiting Haian want you to see someone if some time came open?” Kahara kra. It was meant to be.