Monkey square, the market near the boarding house, puts up great flaps of awnings when it rains, so that the rain is guided away from the market and into the gutters. The streets are wiped clean by it, and it reminds me how dirty they are usually. I shudder to think. The cobblestones shine smoothly as if washed by hand. Would that the world were this beautiful usually.
I bought eggs, millet, ginger, and fish. Always some variation on the same, but this week an upriver sort of fish is cheapest, because the rains washed many, many of them down into the lake.
I saw a boy who had hoops in his ears the size of the eggs in my basket, and I very much wanted to ask if he was in pain, but it would have been rude, and I still do not talk. Everything I do I do by gesture and guesswork. It is frustrating.
It is far less frustrating than hiding inside. I do not wonder what Sev would think, for always Sev thinks that I must stay completely safe and he must go into danger. I could ask, did he think bearing children was safe? Did he think the politics of the capital were safe? Those are not the sorts of questions I ask my husband.
I want to know if Mishta has told anyone I visited her. I want to know if she will find a way that I may speak to a priest, or the high priest. All of this is too big for one woman, or even one man, one family, to decide. It is not right. This is the domain of the gods.
In any case, if the priests disapprove of the assassination and erection of Mithras to the throne, we shall have such a large problem as to make the entire endeavor meaningless. Their power is more absolute than the emperor’s, for he is touched by gods, but the priests speak to gods. Even if, as Sev would have it, the gods care naught for us, the feeling of their grace is such that I cannot believe it, and I know I am not alone. Where I go, many others will go.
The baby is bright-eyed and energetic, the children glad the rains have lightened enough that they may slip out to their errands and girls. I asked Heiye if there was a boy I should be concerned about, since Pen is of that age, but he assures me there is not. Pang is not, I think, of an age where I need to be concerned with stray grandchildren. My sister’s husband has children that are not hers, and I understand it to be a trial for her. Best not do that to my son’s wife before they are even married.
Very few customers today, and very little news. The rain is coming down without pause, and the city closes its shutters and lets the gods decide when business resumes. Even the endless calls of the street are silenced by the rain, it turns out, and I slept badly last night because I was expecting the noise.
I have promised my Lady Wife that I would not read her journal. It is important that she know I have not. However, I find that there is something that she must be told and that I cannot tell her in person. I hope she will not hold this minor invasion against me.
The Prince has returned early. He received word of my ‘death’ from his sister. Apparently she was more concerned over the disappearance of her Hand Maiden to be than we ever realized.
The two compared notes and decided that their father was responsible. Swiftly, far too swiftly to be successful, a plan was conceived and a coup launched. Yes, I am fully aware of the irony. Perhaps my Lady Wife will decide this means that the current ruling family has lost its divine mandate?
Dri wants to move immediately, using the confusion of their attack to cover our own. The initial plan is likely to succeed more easily than I expected but it is too soon. Too many preparations are not complete. I fear that we will take the throne only to lose it, leaving all of the changes that must happen undone.
I cannot find my Lady Wife but I desperately need to know her mind.
The crazy, zany, and completely NOT CANON! interlude you’ve just read is part of the Serial Fiction April Fool’s Day Swap, 2015 Edition. The mindblowing gag post you’ve just read was written by Unillustrated, who normally writes the story The Citadel, found at https://unillustrated.wordpress.com/ .
Lucy Weaver, who normally writes this story, today has created their own piece of tomfoolery for The Epsilon Project found at https://mathtans.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/1-01-the-gathering/.
For a full list of all our April Fool’s Swappers and their stories, as well as dozens of other serial novels that will tickle your fancy, check out The Web Fiction Guide at http://forums.webfictionguide.com/topic/2015-april-fools-master-list
Thanks for reading and remember, the best way to support your favorite serial novelist is to tell all your friends about them.
I am truly grateful to be human, to be well, to be able. As my body begins to adjust to being on my feet for the main part of the day, I find myself both exhausted and enervated. The work I do is not complex, nor world ending, but it requires precision and craftsmanship nonetheless. The people who come into the boarding house for meals expect quantity and flavor, and have little patience for any error. It is exhilarating, and I am reminded how much I have missed people and movement and air. Oh, I am nervous, but nerves are a product of inactivity, and they disappear in the morning air like mist.
The children are stuck inside by the rain. They are restless, and speak in the codes that they have learned on the streets. I am not sure what a pigeon is if it is not a bird, nor why they should shake it, but I really must find time and words for them.
I am blessed with friends. My dear Mishta recognized me at temple today, disguise or no, and she held my hands and smiled at me and could not find words. Oh, I missed her. It made me realize how many people I miss, my family and my servants and my friends. So many people think I am dead or gone or worse. It is a tender place in my heart, and I walk lightly for fear of shattering.
This is not forever. We went and meditated forever, her in her robes and me in my old woman guise, and after a while, we spoke.
“What can I do for you?” she asked me.
“Naught, naught. Except… counsel, perhaps. I am engaged in things that touch on the domain of the gods, and I would have their wisdom.”
“Which domains?” she asked.
“Thrones and kings,” I said softly. “And their mandates.”
“That… that is more a matter of the Son and the Father than the Daughter. Are you….”
She did not complete her thought, but watched me with sweet worry in her eyes.
“You need to speak with someone with more ears to hear than I,” she said. “I am not so vain as all of this. I am so very glad to see you.”
“I thought, perhaps, the high priest, but I know not if you can….”
“It would take time. I do not know if I can, but if I can, only with time.”
“We have time. Best to be careful, and sure. I am-”
I could not explain, not even to a priestess. She had been careful not to say my name. Who knew what echoes might reach other corners of the marbled temple?
“I will be careful,” she promised. “If it is important.”
“If I am right, it is most important. If I am wrong, and before the gods I do not claim to know more than they may, then I need to know while there is still time. Please, while the rain holds, seek counsel for me. I have nothing to give you, no offering, except my thanks.”
“To see you again is a blessing. But you should go, now, for they will wonder-”
“I’ll return in a week’s time.”
I left, then, out into the rain pouring off the arching tiles of the temple roof, and made my quiet way home, wrapped in an oiled cloak and the silence of the rain.
I add the chili oil, and stand back a moment while the worst of it rises, steam rising redolent with a sting that gets into my nose and my eyes and makes me think of good memories. I stir the pot, take out a piece to taste on a long spoon. Too spicy for children, but perfect for adults, with tiny shrimp and water chestnuts.
I love the cooking. I do not enjoy the people, who treat me like I am stupid because I do not speak. Everything is miming and rolling their eyes and calling me a simpleton to my face, for they think I do not understand them.
There is a brand of poetry that says that peasants and herdbeasts are most truly one with nature and the gods, for their simple fates are at peace with the world and we would do well to imitate their simplicity. To this I say, simply, no. They are as foul, depraved, and cruel as we are. More than this, they are as crass as the crassest member of the nobility I have ever met, which is a wonder and a half.
Let others praise those without noble blood. I shall cook spiced food and cry tears of joy at its taste.
I have had, it seems, only a little time for my children these past weeks. I had grown used to being occupied with them most of the time, without the utility of tutors and maids. Now, with the babe, I find Heiye a comfort, for he can keep them from sticking their hands into burning fires and running in front of horse-drawn carriages.
There is a feeling, watching the sun rise after a long night spent awake, when you have wondered if you really were the only one left in the world who felt the stirring to action, irrevocable and not to be checked by anything so mundane as darkness. Then, as the light grows paler and paler, as color creeps back into the streets and the rooftops, painting the long-winged birds that nest there in shades of scarlet and peach. The sounds of the streets and household begin to build around you, until the day has dawned, and it will never know that you got there first this time.
I feel that now, as if everything is waking up and this whole human web of ours is beginning to really work, not just hide indoors from the fog, as if everyone I know is beginning to put the strength of their arms and hearts to right action. I begin to feel pride in this rebellion of ours, this awakening, as I hear the peasants in the cookshop speak of it, as I hear the children speak of it at night in matter-of-fact tones, as if it is a foregone conclusion that Sev will bring his lords to triumph. There is such power in being part of a society. I forget that, sometimes, when I feel like I must guard against everyone and everything, but I do love this country, even down the smelliest peasant.
I plan to visit the temple soon. I have not decided on a day.
Dec 5, 2008
The market was wreathed in fog. Everywhere there is the press of hundreds of bodies, and more arrive daily. Here in the capital there are jobs and food, while the countryside finds itself riven with shortages and dissention. I would not have realized this, one peasant looking very like another to me, if not for the complaints among the shopkeepers of the thieves and dullards of the outcountry. I call them shopkeepers, but they keep to nothing so civilized as shops. Anything is a place to sell, whether it be a barrel, a barrow, or a basket. Girls sell flowers and lift their skirts in blatant hints, men roam shirtless carrying racks of roasted scorpions.
I bought one of those and ate it. It was very good, hot and crunchy in the cold fog, even if the flavor was painfully uncomplicated.
I was a child raised in simple, elegant rooms, with my quiet servants and gardens. The market is chaos beyond my imagining, and my mind cannot separate it into disparate parts that have some order, though I am sure there is order there, hiding. Sev says every man works within his own natural order, even if we don’t immediately see the why or wherefore.
My needs were simple, fresh fish for the stewpot and ginger to spice it, sweet and spicy peppers, and flour for buns. It took me far too long to accomplish my task, despite knowing the way and having nothing else to do. I kept finding the market swirling around me, splashes of color and motion in the fog, the meaning of the words and calls lost in a cacophony of noise that allowed for no discernment. I found myself frozen, silent, as the world moved around me. I saw Heiye in the distance, watching me, but he did not approach. That was very proper.
Eventually the press eased upon my mind, even if the crowds did not cease to exist. I overheard interesting rumors as I waited for myself, an odd way to put it but it was an odd few moments. The peasants can tell all is not well, and are freer to say so than I would ever be. One man even laughed when someone said, “Haven’t you heard? The emperor’s said the war’s over. Everything’s going to be pastry and slavegirls for the next few years.”
In my experience, no one mentions the emperor, let alone laughs at a mention of his name. An odd day, but not a bad one.
Dec 4, 2008
A good excuse not to go to market today, a torrential rainstorm come down from the jungles. A quiet day, which I spent alternatively minding the baby and Meyni and having Meyni explain to me at some length recipes for fried dough and for dumplings and for a clear soup, again with dumplings. I do wonder if commoners love dumplings so much because they do not have to think what goes into them. Chicken or fish, she tells me, as those are cheap, and whatever green stuff comes to hand.
She has forgotten to be ill at ease with me, in a way that makes me realize she was ill at ease with me from the beginning – not startling, given that I caught her like a beast in a trap, but still not something I’d thought about.
My children are not sure what to make of the baby and the attention it receives. Both children have consented to hold her, but only Pang seems interested. I do find that strange.
If the weather breaks I will visit the market tomorrow.
Dec 3, 2008
Something about the decisions I have made the past few days leaves me feeling lighter. It is not my normal time of writing, in the evening, but the evenings here are different. I have worn myself out with sewing, cooking, and much brisk activity, and it is not the time of quiet contemplation I used to have at my last home. This place is beginning to feel like home, though it lacks art or refinements. It has my children, and they are happy. I have decided to write in my spare moments throughout the day. Today it is morning, and with my morning tea I write. The steam drifting from it reminds me of temple incense, pungent and heady.
My wild beasts have not repeated their escapade of a few days prior. I spoke to Heiye, who spoke to her, and the necklace she took to sell for her little friends turned up. In exchange, I fed each of their merry band at dinner time last night, small bowls of millet soup flavored with chicken and mushrooms. My new guise, a peasant’s dress and hair dyed grey and dank, with something on my face to give me terrifying wrinkles, served its purpose. No one remarked on our similarities. I find that being silent suits me better than pretending that my first language is something it is not, so for now I am a mainly mute old woman.
It is terribly amusing, if I may be so bold. I do miss Sev, but I feel quite clever for this little exploit, Meyni’s idea though it may be. If I am honest, the idea of going out to market, with all those people and noises and strangers, terrifies me. I have not been around people except for my family and Nima’s family in half a year, and even then I did not go to markets. I fear doing something wrong. I fear discovery. I fear people, and is that not the silliest thing? They’re just peasants.
I will go to the market. I will not go to the market today.