Tuesday, June 9, 2009

60 - Who are those two boys?

Manas the Wolf FOUND!

-- The Ministry of Serenity reports that the Srian terrorist cell in the city itself has been wiped out. Upon raiding the safe-house, deep in the cellars, Manas the Wolf was found imprisoned.

Since he has been returned safe to the Mezem, his loyal fans will be able to cheer on their fighting Yeoli favourite once more in his drive to win fifty fights.
The Director, though he declined to comment directly, is reported to be very happy at this fortuitous turn of events.

I threw the Pages into the fire. It was Mella 27. Manas had only been free for fifteen days. I had been cheering that Shefenkas’s best friend had gotten away. The Mezem tended to match fighters by skill and they loved to match two forty-nine chainers with each other. The seat sale prices were always set up for that kind of match-up. And if the two had some kind of emotional connection it was even more money. Friends, lovers, enemies, relatives, rivals – the Director’s cry was always ‘The excitement! The drama! Think of the revenue!’

At the very least it looked like the two would be set up against each other for their fiftieth fight. I thought of how much it would hurt Shefenkas to kill his friend – it would be his duty to go back to Yeoli if Father would release him, even after fifty fights. I was awake all night thinking of the calculated cruelty behind Father’s decision and cried quietly so as not to bring Binshala or Misahis in. There was nothing they could do for it. And if they drew Father’s attention by looking after me with real loyalty… they’d be in danger. That danger was stronger now that Father was starting to pay attention to what I did, especially with everything that had happened with Shefenkas, or just because I was getting older and possibly more defiant.

Near the morning, the spring rain began, finally, late, too late to hide Manas in his escape attempt. It made the light pouring in through the balconies and windows grey and dead, the marble walls and statues wept with condensation, keeping the servants stoking braziers and slaves wiping the walls down and carrying the water away. It made me feel cold to the bones.

That morning, I lay on my face, on the marble, to begin my Ten Tens practice, wanting more to fall asleep rather than keep my mind on the hundred motions. I was so sloppy that Tobeas called me back to do both Risae’s ten and Aras’s ten again and again. I was hot, sweaty, and full of anger by the time I was done and could get cleaned up and had to eat again. The day before, I had finished my essay on Filias Aan’s tax reforms, and drawn out twenty-two basic geometric proofs. Shuffled into that were four short commentaries on musical theory and four water-paint drawings I had done and I was sick of working. I had the first pose for the new portrait with Ilesias, all afternoon depending on the light, more dance lessons and then sword lessons, with a formal dinner with Father to finish off. Then I would have my evening for more schoolwork.

I stuffed a cream-cake into my mouth, gulped down a cinnsugar kaf hot enough to burn my tongue and yelped before blocking Binshala’s anxious offer of cool water. “I’m going down to the Mezem after I turn in my schoolwork to Koren. I’ll be back in time for Noon Observance. And yes I remember the new portrait starts today.”

“As the Spark says… If this one may be bold, exalted Chip of Light, perhaps the Meze—“ I cut her off. “I need to choose a new fighter to favour. Father’s forbidden me Kara Raikas for some reason. He was getting boring anyway. In, slash, done. Boring, boring, boring.”

I grabbed up my work and darted out to the schoolroom along the corridor. I was actually a moment early so I stood outside at the balcony edge and looked down the white stairwell to see Ailadas coming up slowly, careful of his knees.

“Koren!” I called down to the distant top of his balding head below, leaned over the railing and as he looked up, blinking through his spectacles, dropped the mass of papers over the edge. He ducked in the miniature paper storm fluttering down four floors, scattering all the way up, until he realized it was only paper and contained no textbooks. “My work. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I scooted back away from the rail, honestly able to say I never heard him call me, and over to Maestrum level, a half-level actually, and called for my two current Mahid. “I’m going out in this miserable weather, get me a covered express chair!”

At the Mezem I shook the water droplets off me, sat down in the chair of courtesy at Iska’s desk and demanded, “You have a swordbuck with any promise? I’m tired of everyone here and want to see something NEW!”

“Of course, Spark of the Sun’s Ray! There is a new man in the cells, thinking it over and the exalted one might wish to view the current greenhands. As the Illustrious one saw, they are training now.”

I pulled out a katzerik and Iskanzas lit it for me. I leaned back, blew a smoke-ring. I didn’t want to pick another favorite. I looked at the pack of old hands sitting in the common area. Manas was there again, looking tired, sick and healing from being flogged. Roughed up by Mahid. They would have truth-drugged him. He leaned back against the zebrawood wainscoting that had been put in only a few years ago to keep the gladiators from peeling the silk any further off the walls, shook out the Pages and buried himself behind the wall of words.

I slouched up and over to one of the sha tables. Sadavos Hovsep’s shoulder was too big for me to peer over so I slumped into the chair next to him. He was a big man, a lot like Suryar Yademkin had been, but had more hair. His chest had Post Observance shadow on it. He needed to be shaved again by his boy. “You need to be shaved again,” I told him.

He looked up an growled at me in barely understandable Enchian. “The exalted Spark of the Divine thinks so? This lowly one will do that.” I guess my new favourite is a kiss ass.

“Good.” I looked over at his opponent, trying not to look up toward the stairs and Shefenkas’s room. “Katchig. He’s about to capture your Imperator.” I blew smoke across their board and ground out my stub in the katzerik salver.


I stood, itching, in the ornate robes my companions had held for me. Ordas, sitting at the back of the hall had his own palette out and with Haiksilias Lizan’s permission was sketching behind the famous painter.

Tomeas played the glass flute softly in the corner and Definas peeled apples for my next break. The robes were too big for me, tucked up and stitched carefully to fit me but the folds of cloth turned inside showed. The edges of the lace were pulled in enough to scratch at my neck and wrists and my cheeks from the raised collar. The topazes were in three rows on the blue silk, oval, rectangular and then splashes of teardrop shapes. The band of gold next to that was overlaid with gold lace sunbursts and then the blue silk again. I was glad it was cool and rainy because the armholes were edged with white and black spotted fang-lion fur, as was the bottom. That puddled several handspans onto the floor.

My shirt under that was white spider-silk strong enough to stop arrows from burrowing more than a point deep into skin, with tight cuffs on the inner sleeves, the over sleeves scalloped and falling down further than my feet edged with silver lace, the silk more valuable than gold or steel. I held little Ilesias in my arms, his face all but invisible in the white and gold presentation gown, his little face screwed up in his sleep, growing red with heat.

“Silasas, get the slaves to open the windows wider. I’m about to faint from heat.”

That made the painter scream. “Mouth! This one’s professional god’s left testicle! The Mouth moved AGAIN!” He visibly struggled to control himself. “Will the Spark of the Sun’s Ray, deign to be quiet,” Haiksilias, his hair dishevelled and streaked with paint where he’d dragged his hands, his gloves scandalously cut so his fingertips were free, through it. “Ah!” He hurled his brush down and set the small timer running. “A break! A break is needed before this hysteric one goes absolutely mad! Lace! Lace and breathing and re-painting feet! Lace!” He stormed out, leaving me to gratefully hand the baby to his waiting nurse and sink down on the chair behind me. If I needed to go relieve myself, with all the help that would need to not besmirch the robes, he had chalked all around my feet to be able to resume my mark. Painters, especially genius painters, could get away with behaviour like bratty Heirs.

“Spark?” Ordas asked from where he was still sketching, looking at the uncovered canvas. The painter must have had more on it than I thought for him to still be working from it.

“Yes?” I gratefully took the glass of wine and soda water mixed and a handful of apple pieces.

“When did the Spark pose for this portrait before?”

“What? I never have.”

I got up and Filias and Definas jumped to lift the trailing ends of the robes so as to not rub out my chalk marks. I stepped down off the dais and came around to look at the front of the canvas. “The painter has so much done… This one thought the Divine Spark must have posed before.”

I stood and looked at the canvas, wondering. The background was perfect and perfectly dry, except for the dais and my feet. Our two figures were almost perfect as well, except for the faces.

“As far as I know…” I said slowly… “I’ve never stood for this picture before.”

The baby’s face looked perfect as far as I could see, red, wrinkled up. I put out a finger and touched the infant cheek though I knew I shouldn’t. The pale paint came off on my finger, leaving exposed the skin painted underneath -- a splotch of birthmark. That wasn’t Ilesias’s face underneath… Haiksilias was covering up a painting he had done earlier, of Heir and Coronet Regal. But… it couldn’t be Father who still had the birthmark because the signature on the dry bottom of the big canvas was Haiksilias Lizan. He wouldn’t have been old enough to paint Father as a baby. What was this?

“I… think I need to find out. It’s a mystery.” The timer clicked and I went back up and set my feet into my marks. What had Father said? “He’ll have to deal with it… it must be that painting.” What painting was that? Kaita placed a nursed and cleaned baby back into my arms and I stood up as Haiksilias came back into the room, much calmer. Who were the two boys in the older painting he was covering up? I looked at the painter’s pinched face and realized I could not ask him.


  1. I think the baby is Minis. Binshala said that the birthmark sometimes goes away. It wouldn't surprise me if Kurkas only chose boys with the mark as heirs.

    Just a though.


  2. OOOhhh isn't he clever? Sorry, I'll put my Monty Python away now. You never know... until later.