Monday, April 14, 2014

686 - Let Me Open Myself

“… dear Chevenga, the Assembly is still arguing about limiting the population, so that even though I’ve signed Arko to your federation, it’s still up in the air.  This might change soon because it seems that the Gods have somehow taken a hand and we have not had any children conceived or carried to term in the city for just over a year now.”  Minis put the end of his pen in his mouth and nibbled.

“It seems that a short term solution will be for me to declare a religious duty of all Arkans who wish to have children.  The Fenjitzae agree with me.  All Arkans having trouble conceiving and wishing children of their bodies, rather than adopt, will need to do a holy pilgrimage to pray at the High Temple itself.  It will require a pilgrimage for every child and the holy requirement of  Arko is that every couple replace themselves.  Aitzas, who can afford more such pilgrimages and the possibility of more children should see themselves as moral beacons to the populous and not have more than two…  The lower castes will be able to avail themselves of Temple assistance along the way so that they needn’t pay for their food and lodging while they are enroute.  I believe that if Aitzas couples who wish to make their journey a sacrifice, and stay in the Temples and Chapels of the Ten along the way, will do so out of piety, and if couple can sacrifice at the Temples it is asked that they do so.”

“I shall be writing every other ruler around the Miyatara to warn them that this infertility seems to have been created by the ancients and we are struggling to find a more immediate cure than the Great Temple of Arko.  The moment we discover the source of this, and any other remedies, my healer and other already dispatched  healers from Haiu Menshir will have full access to anything we discover….”

Dear Kallijas,

"I heard from Kyrialla that you and Laisa may be expecting?  May I offer my congratulations?”  Thank the Ten it seems that being Arkan is not the trigger for this.

Dear Ilesias Mahid,

“The competition for what people are calling ‘The New Mahid Core’ will be beginning next month.  Shall we be seeing you as a competitor?  If so I would certainly offer you family space in the city.  Just so you don’t need to ask.  The city is filling up quickly for these games and you shouldn’t have to jostle with anyone for resting space!

Greetings from your relative…

Dear Reknarja,

I quite understand that you wouldn’t want to travel so far with your wife so recently delivered and the new baby.  Congratulations once more on her birth!...

Dear Sukala,

I look forward to seeing you again.  When you’ve finished whapping me on the head with your stick, you can point out to me the first of the young idiots who win the right to guard me and my family, who will be the first to haul water for your goats and weed your carrots!

My mother looks forward to actually meet you this time.  Well, ‘looks forward’ is not quite correct, but she has taken over the whole of the pharmacological gardens from my grandfather and would like to consult with you on alpine and harsh-condition plants…

Dear Muunas… 

How much Minis wanted to write that letter.  His pen hovered over the blank page and then he put it down, pulled his copy of the holy book out of the desk drawer and flipped to a blank page in the Mikas’s section.

Dear Ten…

I am lost.  We were connected so closely.  My people… who voted me in… suffer and I am helpless in the face of it.  Let me open myself to you, help me or my people find some kind of remedy…

Thursday, April 3, 2014

685 - Who Swallowed the Sun?

The cleansing room behind Risae’s head in the temple was full of the sounds of the cascade that always ran there.  It was too messy and chaotic to be part of the Great Temple vistas but was, as everything in this section, dedicated to Risae.  It made the men uncomfortable to be housed here and Minis had been a little plaintive about it.  When the Gods had told him they all had to sleep in the Temple, he’d assumed that they’d be in Muunas’s Dominion.

Kyriala found it soothing to sit by the cascade, though not in it.  The Fenjitza had been having them in Risae’s cascade so often, especially since the attempted poisoning, Ky was joking with Gan that she and Fara would be growing fins like fish soon.

It was early morning and she’d been feeling restless and agitated for days it felt like.  Uncomfortable and twitchy, and hungry.  Hungry all the time.  She’d tried not to give in to it but Narilla had just smiled and offered her more fruit.  It was nearly time for them all to rise and get cleansed again before going off to the daily round.  Her welcomist would already be waiting to speak to her about her first meeting.  It was breakfast with Ana and the others of the Voters Feminine.  Her stomach growled again.  That had woken her up and she was feeling so hungry she was almost nauseated.

Fara came yawning in and sat down next to her.  “Good morning, sweetheart,” she said and dropped a casual kiss on her neck, something that she would never do in front of anyone else, for Ky’s sake, as Imperatrix in Arko.  The men were still raving in letters to the Pages editor about her having an alesina. At least that’s how they were interpreting it.

“So.  How many white beads this morning?”
Ky looked away.  “I almost don’t want to look.”

Farasha slung an arm around her shoulders.  “Don’t you go feeling guilty, if you’ve gotten pregnant before me.”  Her period had started and finished more than an eight day ago.

“But I know you want children just as much as I and Minis do.”

Fara laughed.  “In twenty years do you think that even a year will make any kind of difference? And if you are pregnant, then your child will be ours too. It’s not a competition, Kyri!”

Ky ran her hand along her belt.  Seven red beads, her fingers counted off... "Thirty-eight, thirty-nine." Another white one. “Forty days…” she whispered.

Fara seized her around the shoulders… “Good! Good!  It’s too soon to tell for sure… Narilla and her priestesses have been smiling an awful lot and that’ll just go on.  It’s just twelve days so we won’t know for sure…”

“Fara… I’ve been twelve days late before. Twice.”

“This time we’re in the Temple.  I have a good feeling about this.”

“Should we say anything?”

“Yes.  But only to the men, hmmm?”

Ky laughed. “And all of Arko will be speculating about us in a tenth because he’ll be beaming like the sun landed in his head!”

“Who had a sun land in their head?”  Minis came in, unknotting his belt. “Gan’s just coming.  He said ‘A half-tenth more!’ and buried his head under the pillows.”

“I’ll go dig him out.  The family’s got three ships expected in at Fispur and he needs to get down there.” Farasha squeezed Ky’s shoulder and smiled.

Minis took her place sitting next to Ky and he tried very hard not to stare at her beads that she still held.  He tried but his eyes kept slipping.

“Yes, silly,” she said and leaned forward to kiss him as he pulled his gaze back up to her.  “Twelve today.”

“Muunas bless,” he whispered. “Muunas bless.”

“Another eight day and we’ll know for sure.  Then… we will be able to announce it if I don’t lose this child…”

“Don’t say that. There might not be a child yet.”

“If there is…”

“If there is…” She counted on her fingers. “We’d be able to tell people on the first of Mikas.”

Gan and Farasha came back just in time to hear that and he started to laugh.  “So appropriate!”

Minis jumped up and flung himself through the cascade and then wrapped his sopping wet self around Kyriala. “Oh, oh, Muunas, Mikas, all Ten praise Ten prais- aghpfth!” He sputtered as Gan hit him in the face with a splash of water.

“Oh, All Spirit! Will of Knowledge!” They grabbed each other’s hands and jumped into the cascade all at once, slipping, holding each other up, laughing and laughing.  

“You’re right,” Farasha giggled.  “He’s grinning like he swallowed the sun!”

“Oh, Ten! Oh, Kahara!” Minis sat down with the cascade splashing off his head in all directions.  “I have to not let anyone know until Mikas one!”

“You can do it.  Think of sad things.”

“Oh, Ten, I have to run. The Assembly opening is in less than three beads, and there's that horrible Quad bill they're debating.  I had no idea that there were any of the Prophet's followers left much less elected to Assembly... there's a reason I never liked Hazkinabas...  and I have to get through an Imperial breakfast!”

“The soap from Narilla… and you need to walk slowly through the blue-light veil!” Gan dragged him back into the cascade by the wrist.  “Soap is quick…”

“Oh, Muunas, oh Ten, oh One!”

Kyriala still felt somewhat guilty but Fara’s soapy hands shook her slightly.  “Our children,” she whispered. 

Ky smiled softly, them more widely.  “I might be grinning like I swallowed the sun, but right now I'm hungry,” she said. “And I need to use the garderobe.”

Saturday, March 22, 2014

684 - Don't Rush that Vintage

Good night, Kaj. I'll lock up.”
Night, Ienas. Junior said he'd head off straight home after he dropped off the deposit. He said not to wait up for him.” I nodded. The family house was so crowded now, even with the boy and Helfig buying a little place just up the street. We wanted the grandbabies over so much it made for a bit of lost sleep, though at my age there's precious little sleeping going on anyway, after I close up so late.  I had to smile, my Iennie hated being called 'Junior' but took it in stride, at least from Kaj.
I drew the wooden bars over my windows and locked them down, listening to the late-night whistles of the Sereniteers. For people's sleeping sakes they keep it down at night, no bellowing the time, or blasting those screech toys for more than a chirp on their rounds. It's like spring froglets or crickets more than anything else.
After the last heat I raise my nose and sniff, just before I bolt the front door. Smells like rain. The smoke-niche is doing well, and we've just paid to have a single pane of clear glass put into the door, though it hasn't been installed yet. The girls' Kaf and cake shop across the street didn't do so well, so they moved back to a corner of the roof terrace and business for the sweet cakes is picking up now that their overhead is gone. A separate place might be in the cards if they get a lot of customers, next year.
I can hear the rumble of the sewer cleaners' carts in the distance. Our street gets washed tomorrow. I truly cannot imagine a finer place than Arko tonight. How on the Earth-sphere could even the Selestial City of Plenty be better?
I've always loved this time of night, when everything is quiet. I polish my mirror, though I'm certain the smudges I wipe are more in my imagination than real. The stripey red kitten that adopted Dorn's storage area as his own does his usual best to kill me, trip me up as I tuck my cloth and glass polish into their box under the bar.
There should be another letter from my youngest idiot, soon. Him, like his big brother, off gallivanting around the world. At least he's still writing, asking about the nice girl whose da happens to own the Greasy Barbarian, rather than talking about bringing another foreign wife home, though I won't hear a word against our Helfig.
The stone grills from the Gourmand are still ticking slightly as they cool. Rasas swears by the stone stoves rather than the fancy iron grills which would cool off so much faster, and the fading ghosts of dinner drift past my nose. I don't have any strongly scented flowers or perfumed candles in my Fig. No sense having strong smells on to conflict with the bouquet of good wine.
I pull my last bottle of Tat 153, set the cat on the stool next to me so I can pet him more easily. The Imperator's Chamberlain ordered my last case and a certain young journalist sneaked in to have a single glass, so this bottle is open. I'll have to see if the rumours of a few bottles coming on the market through Hyerne are true, or just set Kaj to sniffing out if there are any more to be had. I certainly can't let the open bottle go to waste and a wine this old goes off quickly. It should be drunk today.
I pour the ancient old vintage carefully, then for no reason I can tell, two more. There is just enough to fill the glasses perfectly. “It's a good time of night,” my guest's voice rumbles.
I set his glass in front of him and the second glass for his attendant, and scratch the white mule's ears. The attendant reaches to touch his glass, in thanks, but does not drink, bone and claw clicking against the glass.
My guest is dressed the same way I am, like a solid fessas publican. “I really wasn't ready. I wanted to see the babies more grown.”
I understand, Ienas, but it's time.”
So what am I going to be pouring there?” I sit down and sip. No sense wasting it.
Only the best, my friend.”
Any chance I can talk You out of it? Trade a story, a joke, a game, in exchange for a few more years?
I'm afraid not.”
Well. I suppose I knew. I'd like to finish this first though.”
I wouldn't rush a vintage like that. Take your time.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Back in Translation

Hey! The German publisher is getting me to do another edit of the manuscript so I'm going to leave this post as the latest, until the end of March.  Sorry but paying work comes first!

Other than that... did anybody see this coming... who the Unique was?  Did I make it too obvious?


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

683 - I Am Mahid. I Am Mad.

He was tired and confused. The Temple must somehow be corrupted. It had to be. The okas man sat in the square and watched the now daily ritual of procession from the Temple back to the Marble Palace on a raised walkway that people were saying should be built permanently, so that the Imperator never need set foot on the ground to get to the Temple again.
The girl didn't succeed.
The young man nearly trotted across, his wife and the two alesinae behind them. Not one of them seemed different. Not even discommoded. He'd been in the square last night. The Pages was mentioning quite casually how often the young Imperator woke in the night, though he, like the Imperator by conquest and his Regent, had mercifully not had the Imperial chimes wake people in the dark hours of the day. So it was likely that he'd catch the forzak, coating the insides of the kaf pot and the tea pots. He'd been hoping that he could get that Hayel whore who called herself 'Fenjitza'. Perhaps that was the reason the Temple was corrupt?
There had been a commotion late in the night, but nothing he could see through the open doors. They all appeared unharmed, undisturbed. He'd apparently gotten no one. He hadn't been in the Temple for years, and certainly not after the forzak boy's Ten Tens. He thought he'd succeeded and prayed again for the man he'd subverted and sacrificed. He should have done it himself. He knew that now.
He ran a glove over his head. He had the usual okas stripe down the middle, either side of his head grown out almost to his shoulders, a bit past classic fessas length. It had been happening more these years of no hair laws, even though people tended to have at least part of their heads the correct length, and growing the rest out as long as it would go. It was currently the fashion for okas men to have the exact centre of the head short and he slavishly followed the fashion.
It was easier to pretend to be okas. He'd been pretending to be that caste so long he was starting to wonder if his memories of being Aitzas were herb-dreams. He rose and stretched as if he'd been waiting for the morning procession, something that people were starting to do. They were worried about this no-children thing, starting to be frightened. The word 'plague' was starting to be whispered.
Some people were starting to wonder if the Ten were unhappy with their chosen. Some people were saying it was a Yeola-e plot to decimate Arko for this so called 'Federation' that black-haired, curly-haired monster was trying to put together. He was trying to call for people to not have as many children as the Gods would give them. The Aan boy was considering it, everyone knew. Personally he didn't think it was the Yeolis. He thought it was the Gods' word about this.
He'd failed again.
A kidnap attempt, two attempts at murder. The boy was showing as much resilience and protection as the bastard who'd, in effect, put him on the Crystal Throne.
Matthas Mahid put his hands behind him and strolled back down to his home in the okas quarter. It was now the most vibrant in the city, with all these okas and former daifikas not limited in how much they could be paid for their work, Dyers looking for cheap lodging, artists who were appearing where there had been none allowed before, since only fessas had been allowed to be artists.
People were no longer renting single rooms, but buying the ownership of them, one by one. Some okas families were buying their tenements in common and owning them outright. Over on Diligence Road two tenements had actually gone together and re-built their buildings, together, arched over the street itself, with a new eating place in the shade below on one side, and a beer garden on the other side, people re-apportioning their shares of rooms so that every family had windows, every family had running water in their rooms.
They also had ledges running all along under the windows where stone troughs grew food and flowers.
He lived over on Travail St., and he owned his rooms. It would have been out of character for him to continue renting. He had a boy who lived in with him, and kept house for him and provided the relief that was proper. He was having nightmares of waking up and being Mahid. He didn't understand why he was so terrified of his proper station.
The world was right, the world was wrong, he was mad. Mad. He knew he was mad. He was perfectly okas whose foreman was saying he should go for the lessons to become a Journeyman stonemason. He was Mahid only in his dreams. He'd lost his following with the failed kidnap attempt. He'd been working alone ever since and was okas waking and sleeping from then on.
I am Mahid. There is nothing I should think but that... but he had to plan. He had to adapt to his pretence. Dishi would have his breakfast all ready for him when he got home. Home. It smelled right. He'd eat and then go to work, carrying stone for the new buildings, doing the work the foreman indicated, even if he didn't have the status. The buildings would go up under his hands and the hands of his fellow stone workers. The raucous, wild, growing quarter, burgeoning up into the fessas filled with music and poetry declaimed on the street, chalk artists, buildings painted wild colours, foreigners everywhere renting the cheapest rooms in Arko.
Some nights, he'd find himself wrapped around Dishi, sweat cooling between them, the boy's head on his arm, nestled into his chest, wanting to push him away, wanting to run and scream and tear his hair. I'm not Mahid. Not any more. Muunas I am confused. Help me, save me. Should I continue? Should I cling to my disintegrating memories of being Mahid? Oas, Diligent Labouring God, hear my prayers. Should I continue? Am I the sole hand of the Gods here? Why is that? It makes no sense that I should save Arko by myself. But Arko is being punished by the Gods. Oh. Gods. Perhaps I am not perfect enough. Perfect okas would be married. I do not wish to be married. I do not wish to procreate. Gods. Gods, Oas hear me.

Monday, February 24, 2014

682 - Once Upon a Time There was a Poor Boy Named Ili...

Ilesias handed his papers in to Gian, with a proud smile on his face. This time he was early and had actually written more than the minimum. Didi, one of the girls that had come into Gian's class just after Minis had done his Ten Tens, and was hanging out with him and Nuninibas, had talked to him while they were out in the dog yard running around on the field with Tanifas's main pack. She'd been interested in the history part and he'd had so much fun explaining it to her that the papers had been easy to write, afterwards.
Gian leafed through the pages, eyebrows rising. “Very well done, Ili. Whatever has brought about this sea-change I approve of!”
“Teacher, I don't like sitting still and writing stuff down or reading stuff. I like acting it out... Nuni and I acted most of that out for Didi the other day.”
“Interesting. Yes, I've noticed that you are happier moving. So we shall have to do a great deal more theatre in class to improve your academics.”
“I'd like that a lot, but I'm not sure Ailadas will like it.”
“Leave that to me,” Gian stood up. “Gentlemen and Ladies, you are dismissed for the day.”
Ili had been the last student to hand in his work and there was enough of a rush for the door that the Companion's Chamberlain had to clear his throat and call everyone to order. “Is learning so onerous that one must flee?” Five other boys and girls were still clustered around Gian's desk, asking him questions.
“No, ser,” Ili said. “I really want to get a lot of time outside though.”
“Spark of the Sun's Ray, you have an example to set!” He called after them as they ran down to the Heir's rooms.
“He's right,” Ili said. “I've been being a bad example.”
“How is that?” Didi asked, looking confused.
“I've been neglecting my family,” Ili said, grabbing up the sugar cone from the kaf tray and stuffing it into his pocket. She still looked confused as Nuni laughed at the way the sugar bulge sat in Ili's riding trousers.
“Come on,” Ili trotted downstairs, Didi hanging back a bit when it was obvious he was going down to the Mahid section of the Marble Palace. Nuni said he was used to it but the two of them poked each other and hissed behind Ili's back because it was still a spooky part.
But Ili went straight past his grandfather's door and both light and dark venomous menageries, and even past his pseudo-mother's door. All of them were closed and locked anyway. "They're all over at the Temple trying to figure out who 'The Unique' is and stop him trying to assassinate Minis and Ky," Ili said absently.
“Excuse me, Amitza...” he hailed one of the Mahid girls who was skating toward the training hall with her arms full equipment. She braked and wheeled to face them. “Spark,” she said.
“Is Elsha training? Who do I talk to about the kids?”
“That's one of the new ones, Sula I think... they're up in the Imperatrix's solar.”
“Thank you.”
That meant they had to traipse all the way around, to go up, and over to the women's halls, since Ili had promised Antras not to startle people by going through the servant's corridors as short cuts.
“Why are we going to see the Mahid children?” Nuninibas asked. “They're just babies.”
“Minis taught me that good big brothers do stuff with little brothers... an' Ky says that it's good for little sisters too... so I have a little sister... and a sort of little brother who're big enough to play with.”
“But that's what girls are supposed to do!” Nuni stared at both Ili and Didi who were staring at him. “Arkan girls!” he said.
“My brother the Imperator was a good parent! My pseudo mama sniffs at all the stuff he did, saying that some girl should have looked after me, he should have hired a nurse but we were on the run and couldn't.”
“Your brother the Imperator is weird.”
Didi sniffed at him and moved over to walk next to Ili, who just said, “He's Imperator so whatever he does is right, as long as nobody gets up a petition to say he's wrong!”
Nuni grumbled but followed along.
The solar had glass doors and spilled light all down the hallway so their eyes had some time to adjust.
There were servants to help so if the youngest babies cried, the Mahid watching wouldn't be overwhelmed. There were only five babies anyway, besides Tesha and Joras, who were the oldest.
“Hi, Sula!” Ili came in and slid to his stomach between Tesha and Joras who were apparently squaring up to squabble over possession of a carved wooden block.
“Hello, Spark of the Sun's Ray!”
“Just Ili, please,” he said. “We're family sort of, kind of.”
“As you say, Spark.”
“Hey, I played with these blocks!” The wooden blocks were scattered around enough to build a small city, each block small enough for little hands, each block elaborately carved and fit together perfectly. Every fourth block had a locking pin that could be pushed out to secure a wall or an archway.
“What are you building?”
“A house! - A WALL!” the toddlers glared at each other, both clinging to a single block, identical to a hundred scattered around them.
“I see,” Ili wanted to laugh. “You don't need that block to build a house with a wall.” Nuni and Didi both went around the other side of the scattered pile and began looking through them at all the different varieties. There were ceramic ones like brick and marble, and hardwood ones of all kinds. Each colour had a different theme, animals or plants or fish. There were even tile shapes to build roofs with, all painted red as if they were terracotta, but the finish on some were worn on the edges.
“Those worn ones were Minis's,” Ili said, glancing over. “Look, Joras... if you lock your wall to Tesha's house like this, then we could build a tower as tall as I am...”
“I don't wanna!” Nuni sighed loudly from the other side of the blocks.
“All right. But if you behave like that you won't be able to go riding with me when we're done.” Sula twitched at this but didn't say anything.
“Riding?” That caught Joras's attention. “On a pony? Myself?”
“Not yet. The riding master will teach you. Just with me on my horse and if you're really good I'll take him over the ankle-jumps.”
“Let's go NOW!”
Tesha had set her brick carefully on her half-finished house and was listening. “I get to ride too!” she asserted.
“Yes, of course.” He took their hands and got up. “I have sugar for treats for horses, and the riding ring is all set up. Did you know that there's such a thing as a magic house donkey? Yeah, once upon a time...”