The Emperor turned to Ambassador Ordofim. “It seems I owe you my most sincere apologies for the distress and discomfort you have suffered.”
“No discomfort, Supremacy, the quarters you prepared for me were most appropriately furnished. And I am happy that the matter could be so amicably resolved.” He rose up out of his kneeling position. “May I be so bold as to suggest that we both owe the Most Astute Zelli tos Renpli our gratitude?”
The Emperor looked at me. “It would be inappropriate for me to demand that Ni Vaos gift you, Most Astute. But don't think that I have been unappreciative of the service you have provided.” He removed a heavy ring from one of his fingers and held it out. “Take this as a most personal token of the service you have done me.”
“It was my own people I sought to serve,” I protested.
“You served us both. Take the ring. I do not care to owe any debts to impudent young foreigners with execrable manners.”
I bit back a grin, and, stepping forward to take the ring, saluted.
“That was not the same salute as before,” the Emperor noted.
Ambassador Ordofim translated. “From a junior speaker in the forum—which is the Most Astute's actual ranking—to the First Speaker, acknowledging a gift or compliment.”
“Most appropriate,” the Emperor approved. “I think you could learn to have admirable manners, with a little training. Perhaps it is a pity that you depart so soon.”
“I fear you have been presented with a misapprehension, Supremacy,” the ambassador said. “In the sealed orders I received, I was instructed to find something useful for the junior speaker to do, so that he need not return to Gidomi for at least the next season.”
I was so startled that I couldn't for a moment respond to that news, and so was still looking at the Emperor when his eyebrows shot upwards. “Is he in the habit of discovering precisely what one would rather not know when he is at home, as well?”
“I fear so, Supremacy.”
It pleased them to mock. I was too horrified to defend myself. Wasn't the minor miracle I had just accomplished enough to earn a reprieve and a trip home?
“In that case,” the Emperor continued, “the first thing useful to do with him is to teach him a proper obeisance. I rather fear I shall be seeing him again.”
My famed astuteness informed me that he was right. Also that I should not allow myself to groan aloud.
“As for you, Ni Cinasor, you are forgiven. But I do not owe you any further gratitude for the past two days of service. Am I understood?”
“Yes, Supremacy,” Cinasor responded and scrambled up from the floor by the door, where he had been kneeling all this while, so that he could come kneel in front of the Emperor again.
“You may all withdraw.”
My relief at escaping the throne room was tempered somewhat by the likelihood of a return at some time in the future, but I put that forcibly from my mind.
“I don't understand,” I told Cinasor, once we were safe in the hall. “I told him that it was probably an accident, and he then forgave the eplakil for having murdered. If he thought it was an accident, why didn't he say so? And why did Isde Vaos not plead that as part of his defense?”
Cinasor smiled and shook his head. “And I thought you had finally figured us out. An eplakil would never kill someone by accident. That would be unthinkable. If he was responsible for someone's death, it must have been on purpose.”
I decided that I was developing a headache. “You mean that, for a lord of Borgim, being a clumsy fool is a worse crime than being a cold-blooded killer?”
“Precisely.” Cinasor pulled his handscarf out of his sash and presented it to me with a flourish. “Allow me to gift you with this, Isde Zelli.”
I stared suspiciously at the innocuous-seeming square of silk. “Why?”
“My dear friend, did I not promise that I should teach you to use one, if only you were staying longer? And now, happy circumstance, you are staying longer after all. Are you not delighted?”
I looked at the brightly embroidered scarf; I looked around me at the legendary palace; I looked into the twinkling eyes of the young lord—and I lied like a courtier. “Oh, yes, of course. I'm absolutely delighted. How can I be anything other than delighted?”
“You cannot,” Cinasor answered, his mouth solemn and his eyes laughing. He placed the scarf in my hand. “Welcome to the Imperial Court.”