The council meeting broke up, and not a moment soon enough, to Amisbhake’s thinking. The Viceroy, though he had barely looked up from the fire the entire meeting, managed to catch his eye and so Amisbhake took his time getting one last cup of coffee while the other ministers filed out. Though he may not have bothered, it seemed most of them were eager to hear what C’yashi thought and followed him like a cloud of eager jackals hoping a scrap would fall from his kill. The loss of Ch’voga was having far reaching effects. C’yashi, long a lone dissenting voice, was gaining credence, his views no longer openly mocked but supported and even starting to come from mouths other than his own around the fire. Ch’loi’s presence unnerved everyone. No matter how much like a person the physician’s made her look, there was no getting around the unnaturalness of her. She rarely spoke but even her movements, though becoming less and less jerky with her constant training and self-discipline, made them all flinch. She was aware and endeavored to hold still for the entire meeting, barely sipping from the crystal glass in her hand. But even the restraint was eerie. She and Chofa whispered together for a moment and Amis politely waited for them to be done and her to take her leave before sitting back down.
“I need some air, Amis,” Chofa announced.
“Would you prefer the gardens…” Chofa put his back against one of the massive bronze statues which flanked the throne and with a great heave, tipped it back against the wall, revealing the hole underneath. “Ah, it’s to be one of those walks, is it?” Amisbhake smiled. “It’s been a while.”
“Too long. And who knows when the opportunity will come again.” They dropped down into the opening and Amis carefully lowered the statue back into place, sealing the entrance. The darkness was total but they needed no light. They navigated the long narrow passage until it emptied into a larger chamber where they changed clothes with some they left here in a closet, climbed some stairs and out a door and then a maze of alleys and onto a crowded street and the Viceroy and his Chief Advisor were two anonymous citizens of the capitol amongst the hustle and bustle of the marketplace. They grabbed some grilled kabobs, warm bread and a skin of wine from vendors and munched happily away as Chofa led them out the main gate and through the town streets without the ancient walls, over the bridge and into the pasturelands for which the land was named. Finally, on a grassy hill overlooking a valley of herders with the capitol looking picturesque in the distance they sat down to finish their meal and enjoy the wine and the view.
“It’d be nice to do some hunting,” Amisbhake said, “How much time do we have?”
“Indeed, how much time do we have?”
“What do you think, Lord Counselor, is a leader’s paramount duty? The good of the sheep or the protection of the sheep?”
“Are they mutually exclusive duties? Wouldn’t the protection of the sheep be to their good?”
“Is it always? Is all adversity to be feared? All danger to be avoided? Is risk evil? Isn’t the metal heated that endures the greatest test the purest and strongest?”
“If it survives, yes,” Amisbhake answered. “if it not consumed by the test.”
“As Ch’Voga was.”
“I was not driving at that, milord but yes. As Ch’Voga was, yes.”
“Was Ch’Voga weak, Amis? Is that why he fell?”
“On the contrary, milord, in some ways, I believe he was the strongest of us all.”
“In what ways?”
“Patience, love, faith. Zealousness. A devotion I can only dream of attaining.”
“Would he have made a good Viceroy?” Chofa asked.
“Who can say?”
“You can. Don’t dodge the question, not here, not with me. There are no politicians here. I’ve known you too long and as fat as that knuckle of a head of yours is, there has never been room in it for two minds about anything.”
“Sire, you know I loved him as I would had Yah blessed me to be his father…”
“Which is why I trust you to know the answer to what I ask.”
Amis took a deep breath, “no, sire, he would not have. He was too loving. He couldn’t have born the weight of whatever it is you bear right now. It would have killed him.”
“I think so too. His mother was such a gentle soul too. Perhaps that is why she died so young as well. They give too much and burn up far too quickly.” They were silent for a few pulls of the wineskin.
“I never did understand why you let him go. It was such a crazy idea. But you were hoping he would learn what he needed to learn, come back the person he needed to be?” Chofa nodded his great shaggy head. “The people do not deserve you, milord.”
“They might agree with you.”
“Ch’loi is leaving.”
“She believes she must return to the Sea. And I believe she must too.”
“No, not exile, a mission. She intends to return.”
Amis tried to wrap his head around it. “Like father like daughter?” It was a weak joke but Chofa smiled just the same.
“Apparently a chip off the old blockhead.” The face was smiling but the pain in the eyes was unshielded and excruciating.
“Milord, she will return. I will see to it myself.”
“Thank you, dearest friend. You have no idea what that means to me.”
They lapsed back into silence a while. Until something occurred to Amisbhake. “If I didn’t volunteer you were going to send me anyway, weren’t you?”
“Well, now you do have an idea what it means to me.” Chofa smiled again. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to make it an order. I’ve always been able to count on your love and devotion too, old friend.” Amis felt a wave of pride and then a wave of pity. How Chofa must struggle with such decisions. And how it must feel like manipulation to use his friends’ loyalty to have them do what he felt must be done. It was the burden of a leader and Amisbhake said a quick prayer of thanksgiving that it wasn’t his to bear. And yet he was proud he had been counted worthy to help his friend bear it. Two minds indeed!
“When are we to go?”
“As soon as I feel her preparations are in order. She is bent to go and straining against my delay. Patience is not a virtue of Ch’Voga’s she inherited.”
“There is much to do then. Should we be getting back?”
“Not yet. I would like to stay here and watch the sun set over the capitol one last time.”