Chapter 16

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"You know something, Leith?" Rilien told him as they crossed King's Road, under a sky that couldn't decide whether it wanted to rain or not. "You'd make a shit politician."

"Thank you," Leithan said.

Rilien laughed, shaking his head.

They ventured into Veya's Gardens, along one of the numerous footpaths. Trees loomed over their heads – oak, casuarina, mango and fig trees, pisonia, and more species Leithan didn't know the name of. His mother would've known, she was good with that sort of thing. Their leaves, fruits and flowers shone with the luster of recent rainfall. The mixed songs of hidden birds accompanied their walk.

Veya's Gardens were also extensive enough to accommodate resident langur monkeys, which was awesome when you weren't a novice and didn't have to frequently clean up their droppings.

"Something crazy happened last night," Leithan said.

He filled Rilien in as they strolled deeper into the gardens. Just what Ril needed to know.

Leithan focused on the fact that Rilien's dad's workers were felling trees on what the Clan of the Raven clearly considered to be their turf. He mentioned how the shaman and his assistants were so upset by it that they'd concocted an insanely creepy ritual in the hopes of riling up their people, toward, possibly, some eventual attack on the Rengleam.

Rilien laughed at first, then stopped when Leithan clarified that part of the shaman's plan might include an alliance of the seven Yoxai clans, which represented considerably more manpower.

And womanpower too, to be fair, because Yoxai women were often warriors.

Still less people than New Rimar's population, probably, but they had way more soldiers.

Almost all Yoxai knew how to fight. Whereas in New Ri, sure, they had a military school, but they'd never felt the need for an actual army. Military school graduates just became City Watch officers, private or public security guards, they competed at the arena, or they ultimately moved to the mainland in search of more fulfilling work. Leithan knew the best of the best became part of Veya's Swords, the elite Rengleam army.

Anyway, most of New Rimar's fifteen thousand or so inhabitants simply had no fighting experience whatsoever, and firearms were forbidden so almost no one knew how to use one. Which was a good thing, generally, in Leithan's opinion.

But as they discussed this, Leithan and Rilien agreed that it would be best to avoid a war with several hundreds, or maybe even thousands, experienced Yoxai warriors.

"So, the expansion of the coffee plantation," Leithan said. "How important, would you say, is that project to your father?"

"Very," Rilien said. "Apparently, King Strongborn himself is pushing for it. They love Asheth coffee in the capital. Can't get enough of it."

"Then we have a problem," Leithan said.

A langur slinked out from the trees, stared at them with her intelligent eyes. From her belly, Leithan suspected she might be pregnant.

Or maybe just too well-fed.

Either way, Leithan dragged a pack of salted almonds he'd bought earlier before getting in line at the City Hall. He opened it and gave her a couple of almonds, then got lazy and just gave her the whole pack.

She didn't seem to have a problem with that, turning away and leaping up a branch with her prize.

Leithan used to think that Veya's Gardens, with its many trees and ferns, shrubs and vines, and its dainty little ponds, was probably a close imitation to Asheth's forests.

After having spent the most part of last night in the actual forest, he now knew he couldn't have been more wrong.

Here, everything had been arranged with calculated space between each plant and tree. It didn't even come close to the mad, beautiful, wild tangles of the island's natural forests.

Must be a hell of a job clearing it up to make space for that coffee plantation.

As they turned a corner, Rilien touched another topic, "I knew that Nix guy couldn't be trusted. There was just something about him. I never liked him."

"It's over now, anyway," Leithan said. "You're looking at a newly single man."

"Leith I'm sorry, that's not what I meant."

"Isn't it?" Leithan said.

Rilien considered this, shrugged. "Does it matter?"

"I suppose not," Leithan said.

They advanced in silence for a bit longer, their boots leaving imprints on the damp footpath.

Leithan remembered when, nearly three years ago now, Rilien had been a mentor of sorts, had taken Rami, Shay and Leithan to the Hive for the first time, had wanted to show them a place where they could be themselves. Where boys kissed boys and girls kissed girls, and it was okay.

The friendship had stuck. And between Leithan and Rilien, it had survived even when their romance did not. If anything, it got stronger.

Still, Leithan felt a pang, old guilt stabbing through like it had never really left. Maybe those sorts of things never disappeared completely. He could remember, with too much clarity, how awful it had felt to hurt Rilien, at the time. Especially when he'd dated Nix Kalira so soon after they were done.

I'm sorry.

Leith almost said it. Didn't. It was better this way. He'd told him enough times, back then, and it was a long while ago.

Probably just the klar comedown messing with his emotions.

"Can you at least try to talk to your dad about it?" Leithan asked after some time.

Rilien glanced up ahead at the tree-lined path, and rare sunlight caught his dark eyes, making them seem a lighter, warmer brown. Leithan had to look up to see them - Ril was a good three inches taller, if not four.

"And tell him what? Even if I tell him about your weird Yoxai incident, he won't care enough to hinder the project. Maybe if it had happened to Quin," he said with a small lopsided smile.

Quin was Rilien's little sister. And there was this thing in Rengleam society, with fathers and daughters, and a serious issue of overprotectiveness.

"Let's just hold off for now," Leithan decided, hands in his coat's pockets. It was starting to be too warm for it, but he didn't feel like taking it off. "I'll try to think of something."

At least they woke up the wrong twin, the morons, so maybe that'll buy us some time.

They soon parted ways, agreeing to reconvene in the evening for the announcement of the election's results.

Leithan needed to get ready to visit his mother soon, in any case, and Rilien had to go and fulfill councilman-related obligations.

Or maybe Rilien was going for an early beer with his brothers at the Happy Monkey pub, their favorite Uptown spot.

Same difference.  

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