Wednesday, June 24, 2009

70 - I try Arkan Herb for the first time

I left the Winter Palace that day, the last day of the year, to go back to the city in time for Jizmitthra. This year my costume was bones. Not a skeleton, but bones hung around me, clattering and banging, a big weird skull over my head with a cow’s horn on one side and an antler on the other. It was the child’s nightmare version of the Summoner to Death, long steel claws on leather-strapped gloves to snip someone’s lifeline.

I avoided the Mezem this year, though I did go to the Fig.
My costume was too awkward and dangerous to go into the smaller spaces, so I sat on the terrace outside. I drank too much and decided I would try Arkan herb for the first time.

The smoke was sweet and somehow thicker than katzerik smoke and I sat in the light shade, holding it in my lungs and gradually watching the smoke streaming out of my mouth, when I finally exhaled, turn to sparks and flame like a dragon.
That was when I started giggling. Sparks. Just like me.

It was nice but I kept seeing people out of the corner of my eyes… who could not be there.
On my way back to the Marble Palace I kept seeing my older brother Kurkas, in the Presentation robes, next to the express chair, flying along beside me as if he were on faib skates. He was smiling and he and I were good friends and I kindly ignored the blood pouring down from his neck when he talked to me.

“Hey, little brother, you can see me because you’re being the Summoner, right?
One way we can be together. The baby… he’s oblivious. You’re in my place now… maybe one day you will be again and you’ll be able to talk to Ilesias like this.”

I vaguely realized that I was dropping my costume in bits and pieces... laying bones in the outstretched hands of statues, putting bones in behind the fangs of stone dogs and gargoyles.
I hung the steel clawed gloves over the outstretched toe of Filias Aan’s statue at the beginning of the Irisas gallery and the bone mask over the face of the golden marble ‘Baby Sun’. The steps up to my bed were a mountain that I scaled on all fours and found my brother Kurkas again, floating gently three handspans above the bed.

“Move over, brother I want to lie down.”
He didn’t answer me, but moved... I think... or I lay down through him, I couldn’t tell, his features floating up through mine.

“Kurkas… what happened to you?”

“Oh, I was behind a coup attempt against Kurkas,” he said.
“Not a highly publicized coup attempt obviously… I thought I was smarter than I was.”

“Um… why did you try and kill him?
If it’s not rude to ask.”

“No, it’s not rude.
Father started raping me around my thirteenth birthday… because I was too different from him, he said. He was re-aquainting me with our true nature, saying he was a good father. When I was caught, he had 2nd Amitzas torture me in the booth and after, Meras cut my throat.” His hand, pale as paper, trailing its own substance, waved up at his gaping neck wound.

“My condolences.
He… do you think he’ll start doing that to me?” He floated over and sat on the end of the bed.
“I don’t think so. He has other obsessions now.”

“Thanks, big brother…”

“No problem little brother.
I’m glad I’m dead. I don’t have to hate you now that I’m dead.”

“That’s good to know.
I never knew you so I can just love you, I guess. Is Selestialis as nice as they say?”

He started laughing then, the cut throat gaping in a red smile echoing the white one above it.
“Oh, little brother. I’m not in Selestialis. I’m in Hayel.” His laughter was like screaming.

I sat straight up in bed and yelled, “THAT’S NOT FAIR!
MUUNAS!” I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say but Kurkas was gone. I could still feel the singing wildness and the need to laugh even though nothing was funny anymore, of the fading herb high.

Binshala came in at that point with a cup of kaf ready for me, even though it was Jitz and she shouldn’t serve me.
“Thank you, Binshala.” I drank it, shaking. It was still only the middle of the afternoon, but I put my head down and slept the rest of it off, thankfully without dreams.


My new ‘favourite’ was fighting the same day that Shefenkas had his forty-second fight.
I don’t even remember what’shisname’s fight number, though I was careful to cheer wildly and jump up and down and fling myself at the glass for Svet-something, a Brahvnikian I think.

Father laughed at my fickleness when I acted bored at Shefenkas’s fight, Kyriala sitting silently behind us.
Inside I was appalled. Something had happened since the last time I’d seen Shefenkas. There was an unspeakably vile scar on his cheek.

“So, Father, did Shefenkas have a close call at some fight I missed?
Someone carved up his face.”

I was surprised at Father’s frown.
“The Mahid who did that overstepped my will. I didn’t want him disfigured like that. It was part of his punishment.”

“Punishment, illustrious sire?
What did the barbarian do?” I took another slice of deep-fried two-shell, held it to the slave to have it slathered with iced green sauce before putting it in my mouth.

“The vile conglomeration of lies published under the title “Life is Everything”.
I had to speak quite harshly to Norii Maziel about his choice of material and sent a Mahid down to adjust Intharas’s attitude. It was obvious the Pages editor needed some attention since he published such nonsense.”

You did that to him. You ordered it done. Then acted as if the Mahid overstepped his orders. You. My brother’s ghostly face and screaming laughter echoed in my head.
Don’t show that you aren’t like Him. “Yes, Father. Lies and vileness, as you say.” I raised my new magnifiers... the Lens Guild had gifted me with a new pair for my birthday, in the hopes I would be seen using them. They were blackwood tubes with gilt rings holding the ground lenses, on a single elegant blackwood and gold handle.

Shefenkas’s face sprang close as if he were in touching distance, the lurid, jagged red slash cut across smooth skin like an acid burn, Father’s hatred painted across his face.
He turned after receiving his victory chain and his eyes were wrong... they were wrong. The expression in them blank and old and wandering all at once, overlaid with a barely contained viciousness. Those weren’t his eyes. They were the eyes of a man being driven mad by rat bites. They were germ-of -the-head eyes, starting to see things that weren’t there.

I tossed the magnifiers into their cushioned carry case and rummaged through a box of sweetmeats, biting into each one before dropping it and going on to another until I found one that I cared to eat all of.
I could feel Father’s eyes on me and raised mine to catch his gaze, smiling. I made myself a mirror that he was pleased to look into. He grunted his approval and heaved himself up to his feet on the arms of two slaves. Time to go.


I could start haunting the Mezem again now that Father had become convinced that I was no longer interested in Shefenkas.
The look in my friend’s eyes had frightened me, as if I could see him losing the fight against the germ. I resolved to ask Misahis if he knew of any remedies that could help.

But when I required Binshala to summon him, she pressed her lips and gloves together.
“This one may not, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”

“What do you mean this one may not?
I want him. I have a belly ache," I lied. "Fetch him!”

“This one most abjectly regrets that the Haian is no longer available, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.
He... he has gone home by your Father’s command.” She stared at the floor as she said this and my heart and stomach clenched. She was lying to me. I could tell.

“Binshala, I don’t care if you tell me you can’t say things... but don’t lie to me.
Don’t EVER lie to me. Get out. Get out of my sight until I call you. Get out!”

She gathered up her tight skirts and fled.
The moment she was gone I turned on my Companions and snarled at them all to go away, I wanted to skate by myself. I let Definas put my skates on before he left. He looked as though he wanted to say something but didn’t quite dare. What was Father going to do for a personal physician if he'd gotten rid of his Haian? He couldn't just write and ask for another one, like a replacement automaton.

I pushed past Definas, knocking him over as I lunged to get out of my own rooms.
I skated the lower Imperial levels for a while, not daring to go straight to my objective. I passed through the atrium garden where little Ilesias and his nurse and servants were, but didn’t stop to cuddle him or make faces at him. I’d probably just make him cry with the faces I wanted to make.

At last I dared head back to Misahis’s rooms.
They weren’t locked, but I knocked softly anyway. No answer. I pushed the door open slowly. The instant I slipped in and closed the door behind me, I knew he hadn’t packed his things and gone home. Not voluntarily. The rooms had been sacked, but slowly.

Half of his things were still exactly as they had been left, the other half packaged up as if to be shipped away.
But they weren’t carefully packed. Too many things were flung onto the floor because they had no value to someone. His orchids were all there... dying of dryness, the broad flat leaves wrinkled like an old man’s skin.

He was gone and I had an idea I knew where.
If he weren’t dead, he was in the deepest cells of the Mahid section. Why? Why? This was stupid. If Haiu Menshir realized, they’d pull every healer out of the city... perhaps even the country. Why would Father do such a thing? The known world would rise up to defend Haians. Haians who never did anything but good, never did anything but heal everyone who came.

Harming a Haian was like spitting in Muunas’s Face and the idea made me sick, made me cringe.
I wanted Misahis. I needed him. I stood in the middle of the mess and cried, silently. Is it because I loved him, too? Is it me again? He listened to me, when I thought I was going crazy. Is it because of me that he’s dead or suffering?

I stomped one skated foot, froze when I heard the smash of the spine of a paper lantern under the wheels, took a deep breath before skirting the worst of the mess.
The three little orchids he had, had dropped all their flowers, the rotten petals brown smears all around the pots, but they were on one tray. I picked it up, orchids, smears, pebbles and all, and skated carefully back to my room with them.

The tray went into my windowseat behind the curtain so it wasn’t so obvious and I gave them a drink.
Maybe... maybe he’d be able to get them again some day, if he ever got let free from where he was. Maybe, if I kept them from dying, he wouldn’t die. It was a child’s wish, a child’s hope of magic, or maybe it was a prayer. I didn’t know. But it was the only thing I could do.


I was struggling through Etudes and Dances on the Great Harp, with my music master marking my time with a frozen smile on his face, when Antras looked in, a tray in his hands.
It wasn’t time for the Noon Observance Meal and well past Mid-Morning. My companions, all as far as they could be from my practice, as they could excuse themselves, look relieved at the interruption.

I looked at him and he brushed the tips of his gloves over his mouth.
I figured it out. He had something to tell me that he thought I should know. “Ah, Antras, excellent. Master, perhaps a moment’s break for a drink?”

Yes. This one thanks the divine Spark.” I knew I wasn’t much good at music but he didn’t have to flee quite so fast. I could almost see him wondering if he had time for a fast herb-pipe out a window before he had to come back to hear me torturing the music.

Antras put the tray down carefully and poured me a glass of wine, presenting it properly to me, going down on one knee, letting him say, quietly enough that my companions couldn’t hear,
“There has been a death... a suicide down at the Mezem. There are writers called down there now.”

“Thank you, Antras.
Nicely done.” I took the glass of wine that I was ostensibly thanking him for and he bowed himself out. I’d gift him for the information, later. Who had died? It couldn’t be Shefenkas. Forzak it. I would go down and see for myself the first moment I could.

Who had killed himself? And why?


  1. Oh no... I think it's Mana... Mana!

  2. Will Minis find out what really happened to his brother?

  3. Yes, he will but not for another few years... he'll be fourteen when he finds out.