713 - Jump with relish into plotting my political doom
I could not work only on the Constitution, though I would have until it was done, if I’d had the choice. I had to fit it in around all the day-to-day things. Thus it became aching slow. I remembered reading somewhere, “For one who is indispensable to arrange things so that he is not is the most painstaking work.” It’s the most painstaking work for the rest of my life, then, I thought.
Another nagging worry underlay that work. It was nothing but ink on paper; true change comes in the hearts of the people. Arko had still not voted on anything of significance, not in sufficient numbers to truly learn, as you can only by experiencing and feeling, what their power would be with the fodaisin. They’d get to elect their Servants, but that is still incremental; it doesn’t have immediate effect like, say, a vote to invade a nation or alter a law of significance such as the prohibition on slavery or purification. They needed something like that before I died, else the odds of everything I’d done holding were so much worse. But what could it be? If I could just invent something, I would, I thought. But how can even an Imperator?
Thus when Haiksilias Lizan’s name came up on the audience list, I expected a joyful break from the worries. He had said that he’d apply for an audience when he was finished his secret mural. I’d be forced to spend a bead viewing a great work of art, and it would count as work.
There is no way to describe the look on his face other than that of a child, barely able to wait to show you a scribble he has done. Late middle-age, and he was still almost bouncing.
Krero was in the corridor, looking glum, obviously needing cheering, so I invited him along. I often wonder how things would have gone if he had looked happier, or happened to be in the garderobe.
Not only we, but Haiksilias himself would see his painting as intended for the first time. So no one would see it in progress, he’d kept the curtains on all the windows drawn, the only light coming from the ceiling light-tunnels and torches he had raised. He had done the entire work transposing in his mind how the colours he painted in dimness would look in full light. It was a testament to his greatness that he would even attempt this.
Thus in the initial darkness, I could see only a vague sense of motion and of flame. When we were in the best place as Haiksilias judged it, at the centre of the room, he pulled the cord that threw open all the curtains at once.
Words are meager in describing an average work of art; they fail entirely with a great one. I can say, it seemed alive: the people in their attitudes of terror or rage seeming to truly move, the fire to truly burn, the swords to truly strike, the blood to truly flow. Being on a wall large enough that I could see little else, it threw me back two years. I smelled the smoke again, so thick with the stench of wrongness, heard the savage joy-whoops and the agonized death-screams, felt a gutter-stream of blood, still warm with either fire or the life of whoever it had given life, splashing over my feet. I had not seen the Sack up close; I’d only caught a glimpse from a Marble Palace window. Now I did.
I barely had time to think ketanin… this will throw me back into it, to begin to see what this meant, to admire, on top of his artistic brilliance, his courage and strength of conviction—he had to be expecting to die for it—to imagine what Arkans would feel seeing it. I distantly heard him start a steady chuckling, knew he was looking at me and did chiravesa without willing it; a year and a half of fifteen-bead days, I’ve worked, and just this makes it all worthwhile—look and die in spirit, Shefenkas. I felt the whipping start in my mind, the dragging toward the pit, the call of living death in the form of ketanin.
But another sound—Krero’s wordless snarl of rage—and weapon-sense flashed me out of it, since this time I could move. His sword was out and drawn back over his shoulder; I saw a flash of him holding Haiksilias by the throat, while Haiksilias futilely clutched his arm, those hands that had such genius in them certain to become insensate meat in an instant. I was between them and grabbing Krero’s sword-wrist almost before I knew I would move, that being my hands’ genius. “You childraping Saint-Mother-spurned moron I’m in the same room in full sight who’d get blamed Krero Saranyera who’d get blamed!!?”
“What are you child-raping talking about, you shit-eating lunatic, look at this!” he screamed back full in my face. “Look at this monstrosity! Why do you think the straw-haired rapist did this? What do you think Arkans would feel if they saw it, and had all their old wounds that have healed ripped open again? This is subversion, this is rebellion in the guise of art, this is something that if someone did with a sword instead of a paintbrush, we’d whip off his head in an eye-blink, if we were in our right minds!”
I didn’t answer, my mind coursing ahead, while the three of us stood frozen. It wasn’t only assault, but attempted murder—the only thing preventing it had been my move—the sort of thing Arkan law would sentence someone ten years in the dungeon for. Haiksilias might not bring charges, but it had still been in my presence, and he had no reason to keep it secret. I said nothing, and in indecision, decision is taken out of our hands. “Fine,” Krero snapped, and switched to Enchian. “I won’t kill you, you shit, for all you deserve it.” I let go, and he sheathed the sword.
In the pause, or perhaps with the blade out of sight, Haiksilias found his heart. “Oh no, go ahead and kill me, I am happy to die,” he said. “I knew it was likely. I have lived to see the look on Shefenkas’s face when he saw it, and now I have, I can die a happy man.”
Krero is like me, someone who can move on the first whisper of a thought. I only could have stopped his drawing-cut if I’d had a sword of my own. In an endless frozen moment I watched the blade draw within a cubit, a handwidth, a fingerwidth, of Haiksilias’s head; then twist and slow in the last instant, changing to a pulled smack on the brow with the flat. “I said I wouldn’t kill him,” Krero chuckled. The painter’s eyes rolled back into his head and he crashed down boneless, and then there was the smell of kyash. “Pfah!” Krero spat, laughing. “Such brave words! What do they make Arkan artists out of—tissue paper?”
“You kyashin idiot!” I yelled. “Everything artists see they feel ten times as much as the rest of us and he’s a great artist, it’s probably a hundred times, and you just made him see your kyashin sword coming at him Krero you’ve committed one count of attempted murder and another of torment with a weapon and I am the fikken law here why are you not childraping seeing that!?”
Now he looked at me as if I’d stabbed him. “You wouldn’t. After we covered for you with Farniya… Cheng, where are you going, where is your mind, does it matter nothing to you who loves you, who are your friends and your people, who always had your back and got you here?”
I looked at my hands; they were shaking like leaves, the gold chains of the Seals dancing. Haiksilias had come to; I heard a crazy half-stunned chuckle from him. “That doesn’t put you above the law any more than it does me,” I said.
“You and your child-raping Arkan laws!” he yelled. “Isn’t there one against stirring up bloodshed by lying with paint?” The mural followed the Sack Edition’s version of the Sack more than the subsequent edition, complete with me committing an atrocity I never did—that was the part that moved me least, because it was false, I imagine—but nothing was overblown; it had the subtlety that a great master knows how to invoke, that makes for a harder and deeper ring of truth. “Isn’t there one against fomenting hate against other residents of the city, putting them in danger? Don’t you see, Cheng? This stinking cowardly straw-hair did this counting on you to be soft on him, counting on your shame and regret to guarantee he gets away with it! At the same time it’s a stroke against every single one of us, Yeolis and allies alike, and if you put up with it, what will come next? We can paint it over, fine, but he will go on—”
“Paint it over?” I said, in disbelief. That was inconceivable; whatever feelings it evoked, it was a work that would be counted as one of the greatest in the world a thousand years from now. I’d destroyed enough Arkan art treasures, starting in Kurkas’s sanctum when I’d been a Ring-fighter. “Are you mad?” we asked each other, in one voice. “You want to let Arkans see this?” he went on. “Why don’t you give them the charge order against us while you’re at it?”
“That’s enough,” I said quietly, which froze him. “Go to my office, that’s an order.” While he yelled and argued, I couldn’t think. He started to protest, but I said, “That’s an order; go or risk an insubordination charge.” A voice raised in anger is helplessness, not power. He went.
I stood in silence, with Haiksilias, who was slowly getting up, trembling, and the Sack. I don’t know what to do, I thought numbly. It happened so rarely. I have no idea… think! I commanded myself. Choose. He finally got to his feet, saying nothing, which seemed oddly polite. I took a long breath to seize calm. God-in-Me, Blessed Ten, Muunas, All-Spirit, what do I do?
I have come to believe in my life that you cannot throw out such an entreaty with full sincerity, and not receive an answer. May you hide from Arko the work of one of its own citizens? Do you pretend the Sack did not happen, and no one feels anything about it? What was the solution with Farnias?
“Truth,” I whispered. “What am I, if I fear it?” I would not be the one who said Whatever you do, don’t call me as a witness ever again. Yes, there were some Arkans who still steadfastly believed I’d dagger-raped babies. But most didn’t, and his duplicity there would cast doubt on everything else he’d painted, except what they had witnessed. All knew I had leapt out a Marble Palace window, and then done the Ten Tens. Because you require truth of yourself, the divine voice whispered, you need never fear it.
“Are you all right?” I asked Haiksilias. He stared at me amazed, then head-wagged yes, and winced. “I should have my healer check you.” He grated, “No... I have my own healer.”
“Go, then,” I said. “You’ve been duly paid. You thought I’d punish you for this, because he would”—I pointed to his rendering of me, strutting over corpses with a cruel gold-toothed grin—“but I was never that. You are a great artist, Haiksilias, but not an honest one in this case, and you know it; you are too great not to. That takes away from your greatness.” His eyes flinched a little; great artists feel truth deeply. I head-beckoned to the door and he scurried out wordlessly.
“So,” Krero said affably, in my office. “What are we going to do about this? Let’s think it out sensibly, Cheng.”
“I’ve already thought it out and chosen and done, except the last part,” I said. “I love you as a heart’s brother, Krero, but someone who shows such bad judgment even once, I shouldn’t keep on. It’s been twice now.” I reached to his collar and unclipped his pin.
I remember word for word what he screamed at me, but won’t write it all out, for his sake and my own. The gist was that I was a lunatic and a traitor, and the hawks were right in every single thing they’d said to him about me. I told him our time was up; I had the next person on the audience list. He cried, “A semanakraseye who does not act in the interest of the people is no semanakraseye! I’ll see you childraping impeached! Saint Mother fik Muunas with a sword, your sweetheart strawhairs… they’d childraping vote on that, I bet!”
The flash was so huge and blinding, like a bolt of lightning that crosses the whole sky, making it one, that I almost passed out; I was reeling in my chair as my sight came back. “Go right ahead,” I heard my own voice say. He stared for a moment, startled, confused, I realized, by my expression and the weakness of my voice. He’s going to guess, I thought. I turned it into a sneer of defiance and contempt. “Go right ahead. Go running to your beloved hawks and”—here I smiled, and let my voice drip with sarcasm—“jump with relish into plotting my political doom.” He sprang up, trembling, with tears in his eyes now, and stamped out snapping over his shoulder “Eat shit and die, Fourth Chevenga! I will!”