Friday, June 5, 2009

58 - One must be flexible!


-- Ring-fighters Mannas the Wolf and Niku Wahunai are missing after leaving the Mezem separately late last night.

It has been established that they were likely kidnapped, by a clandestine rebel cabal backed by Sria, investigators from the Ministry of Internal Serenity say.

"I bemoan deeply," the Director of the Mezem was quoted as saying. "Mannas is one of my greatest fighters, one of the most precious jewels in my magnificent collection.

"Niku, though a mere woman, has acquitted herself incredibly in the ring, and is dear to my heart for all the gate receipts she draws.

"I don't know what we will do--I am wringing my hands--they cannot be replaced. I only hope that by one means or another they are returned to their rightful place."

Investigators are quick to dispel rumours that the two actually took part in a successful escape plot.

"It is not possible, as every Arkan--and more importantly, every ring-fighter--knows," a reliable Ministry source said. "We pledge by our hopes of Selestialis that we will return Mannas and Niku safe to Arko and bring their abductors to full and proper justice."



-- A conflagration in the city forest last night was the work of unknown arsonists. The Ministry of Serenity has set its investigators to searching out the miscreants responsible. 

“This is not the work of idle and unrestrained children, but a deliberate and malicious effort to cause harm.”

The blaze was started in a brush-pile left for disposal by brushing crews an eight-day ago. An inquiry has been launched to discover why the Arboretus Grooming Department, of the Ministry of Conservancy, was so lax as to leave such tinder for such an unacceptable length of time.

I put the Pages aside and wondered why it had to be Mannas and Niku kidnapped and not Shefenkas. If Srians could get two gladiators out of the city why could the Yeolis not send someone to rescue their semanakraseye? It didn’t make sense to me, but I didn’t have enough information to figure it out.

I was beginning to be bored, hiding in my bed and demanded to get up, not wanting to start my full routine again but I called for Kaita to bring my little brother to me, and my harpist.

I had a new silver satin chamber robe and ended up lying on the floor making faces at Ilesias, while my harpist played softly for both of us. The Libretto was something I hadn’t really mastered but it was nice to listen to.

The Lesser baths had been thoroughly cleansed and I insisted Ilesias come with me to be cleaned before dressing. He liked it, lying, burbling and splashing in Kaita’s arms as she stood in the pool. She looked a little nervous but my little brother liked it. I’d have to really practice my swimming a lot before I could teach him. I smiled at the thought of teaching my little brother to swim, a secret between the two of us.

While I was being dressed a note came from Father. He’d decided that since I was now blooded he would hire a sword teacher for me. The salle would be opened and prepared for use and I would begin sword training. I swallowed my gorge and penned my loving obedience to his command.

He wouldn’t hire a solas teacher who might teach me something useful, but probably the pre-eminent Aitzas teacher who taught the pretty sword forms. If I were unlucky I’d get the teacher recommended by Father’s closest, like the Kallen family. That would be either Kintaikas Ririen who ran his ‘The Bellicose Arts for Young Aitzas’ off Jibaenen Boulevard, or Tirias Mil Iksas, private instructor. I resolved to read the best books I could find about war training, starting with The Great’s, 'Under the War Banner' and not say anything. Perhaps I would learn something useful.

Learning how to fight… I took a deep breath. Shefenkas told me it was something sacred, to learn to defend my people. Ilesias the Great was a war Imperator. I’d make it fun. And Father was right. I was blooded and knew what it felt like. It was a barrier I thought I would never have to cross again.


The salle was on the Silianas level, all dark green marble, with the glass windows set into slots in the cliff and tinted to match the stone so they were all but impossible to see from the ground.

Inside, one wall was entirely lined with mirrors. The wall along the back had what looked like three or four very wide ladders bolted together and to the wall, all the way to the white marble ceiling. There was a dance-master’s bar, waist high, along the last wall opposite the mirrors.

I led my companions in at the appointed time, straight from my Ten Tens practice. There were seven of us together and I had Definas and Tomeas nearest me. The sword master… was Ririen. I hid my disappointment. He stood arms crossed, a stern look on his face, carefully posed in the light from one of the windows, his Master’s Whites glowing. He nodded to me but said nothing at first. No doubt to impress me with his mysteriousness.

His assistant first’s whistle called us to attention. “In the salle, young gentlemen, all rank is earned and all address to one another is equal to equal. To the Sword Master one speaks one-up until you have achieved the gold stars on one’s cuffs.” That was the sword master’s sign, five gold stars. Most Aitzas who have studied, wear tiny gold pips either on their glove-cuffs or in my and my father’s case, on our collars. Father actually only had one collar pip.

“Young gentlemen! You will be addressed politely as Students and the Master requires polite response. All instructors will be addressed as Teacher. If you would please line up! Look straight ahead.”

The Master moved when we were lined up and walked down the row, my companions off to my left. He deigned to drop his nose and looked every one of us up and down, one of his hands at the small of his back, the other on his small sword. As he looked me up and down he inhaled a little and his nose pinched. “You have already warmed up, Student?"

I unclenched my teeth, not used to being addressed so familiarly by someone I hadn’t given permission. “Yes... Teacher.”

He sniffed. “Good. However…” As he turned I could see his long hair was braided in the solas pattern but the end, of course, trailed to his knees. “Since time is somewhat of a constraint, I am given to understand, we will ensure that everyone runs under the cascade, before and after. The stenches the body produces when put under the precise and exacting art of the sword should not have to be borne by your fellows or your instructors.”

I thought of Shefenkas, covered in sand and blood, after fighting for his life in the Mezem and thought he might have something different to say about that. I swallowed hard, thinking of the blood spraying across me from the gaping throat wound, and the feeling as the Summoner to Death seized the young man. Killing was not something that smelled good.

“My assistants will be helping you begin, young Students,” Ririen continued. “And I will observe how you move. We will begin with stretching. One of the basics. One must be flexible in the art and innovation of the sword!” He whirled fast, his sword blurring out of its scabbard to point at Silasas, who twitched back a half step. “Flexible!” he said, and snapped his sword back into its scabbard without looking.

“Run once around the salle for flinching, Studen Pasen.”

We actually spent two beads running around the salle that first lesson. I couldn’t run well and bent over, wheezing. “Your wind is bad, student! You will retain your Imperial stature, certainly, but we will build your stamina!” I ended up sitting out big parts of the lesson, instructed to watch if I could not participate.

Master Ririen was easy to dislike, but I tried to listen for the wisdom in what he said. A slave handed me a cool drink as I sat, while another fanned me. At the end of the two beads he had all of us taking the first position with light-weight mock swords, adjusting our feet, getting us to stand tall.

It reminded me of the first positions in several dances taught me by my dancing master but I didn’t say anything about it. And tried to wash some of the bad feelings I got from Master Ririen off me with the after-lesson cascade.

I wanted to be worthy of the Imperial sword, since Father believed I would carry it one day. Definas helped me order my hair after he held my tunic for me. “The Mezem trainer is much more crude in his speech than Master Ririen is,” I said to him. “It seems to me that crude might be – more effective.”

“This one supposes that might be true, Spark of the Sun’s Ray. The Master is very fast with the small sword.”

“He is. Did you know the Imperial Sword… the real one, not the fancy thing in the glass case for the public to see… is a lot heavier than the small swords most Aitzas carry now?”

“No, Spark of the Divine Light, this one had no knowledge of that.”

Binshala caught up to us with her ubiquitous tray. “Divine Spark, Mid-Morning’s...”

I still felt sick from my morning’s exercise, and didn’t feel like eating. “Nurse, I will sit down in my rooms, with my brother for Mid-mornings, in a tenth or so.” That would give me a bit more time for my stomach to settle.

That would make her job easier if she didn’t have to chase me around with trays of food and it would be right and proper for my little brother and I to eat one of the formal meals together.

We went down to the showcase first. It is in the central hall leading to the audience chamber with a knee-high glass-brick wall keeping everyone an arm’s length away from the case. “This one always thought this was the Imperial Sword.”

“It is… sort of. It’s the ritual one that Father wields at the Solstice Rituals. That’s why it’s encrusted in topazes and rubies like that.”

“So what is the exalted one is calling the real Imperial sword?”

“It’s the ancient one. The one that the Great carried on the field. Father had this one made to use in ritual. You and I will need to sneak into Father’s rooms if you want to see it.”

He looked scared and I didn’t blame him. “Tomorrow when Father is being bathed. Just you and I, and I’ll show you.”


  1. 'I was beginning to be bored, hiding in my bed and demanded to get up, not wanting to start me full routine again but I called for Kaita to bring my little brother to me, and my harpist.'

    Did you mean 'my full routine'?