Monday, August 31, 2009

105 - Downstairs/Upstairs

Erelas carefully placed the half-empty tray on the washing station. “Hey, under-chef! The additives are in this one!” He picked up the half-empty bowl of crème fraiche.
“Dump it,” The under chef, Senaras jerked his chin at the bin. He had the rights to the broken meats from the Heir’s meals and began packaging up the remainder. Erelas scraped it clean and slid the emptied bowl at the dish-boy who expertly caught it and placed it in the pre-wash basin with a clatter.
The Marble Palace kitchen was always humming. There was cleaning from the previous formal meal, four a day, sometimes five if the Imperator called his court to a late meal, to the hair-pulling chagrin of the Master Chef.
Preparation went on constantly. If the butchers were finished for the day then the bakers were beginning the plain breads and once those were all in the massive ovens, the pastry chefs were just beginning to cook down sugars or make their icings.
There were eight breakfast chefs and their underlings alone, and that was the simplest meal of the day. They were replaced by the mid-morning chefs and, in turn, the Noon Meal chefs. Each brigade was bigger than the last, but the Master Chef who began his day at Noon, ran his kitchen rejin as the best of Generals.
Vegetables would come in, in boxes that took four men to lift and slaves would be set to cleaning them in the washing basins before they’d be taken to the chopping stations.
Erelas wiped his face with his gloves, took a fresh pair from the basket, tossed the dirty ones in the laundry bag. He had a few minutes to himself until he was required upstairs again so he stepped around the night station where a chef came on duty should someone above stairs demand a late-night snack. There was the resting room just behind and he closed the door on the noise with a small sigh of relief. He poured himself a cup of kaf and settled down in an overstuffed old chair and put his feet up.
Antras looked up from a copy of the Pages. “Hey there, Erelas. What’s happening above stairs?”
“The Spark’s in the Lesser Baths again – much more of that and the Ten might turn him into a fish… and the Divine One ordered everyone but Karas out, poor kid.”
“Yeah, has the little Raikas recovered from the last Celestial tantrum?”
“Not yet.”
Antras rolled his eyes. “I’m not usually sorry for slaves… but…”
“He’s killed one of them.” There was no need to say which ‘He’ the two were talking about.
“Really? Shen, I didn’t know that. He took one away from the Spark, did you hear?”
“No. Too bad for the slave, Sparky’s been getting better and better.”
“Yeah, my brother-in-law’s nephew by marriage – Ienas, you remember him? -- works on one of the clean-up crews that had to clear the mess in the Orrery. Supervising of course. But Ienas said that Himself not only took Sparky’s Raikas back, he killed the Ember’s pet donkey by throwing it off the viewing platform. At first the crew thought it was Sparky or the slave they’d be cleaning up until they saw all the fur and hooves and tail… Burst like a blood melon, he said.”
“No shen. Himself’s in a state.” The two men sat in silence for a while sipping their kaf, before Antras looked up again.
“Do you think we should maybe get Durinibas a bit closer to Sparky? It’d make life easier all around if there were more of us... like minded servants if you like… on the Spark’s side…”
“Kinda dangerous-like, Antras. Too much like picking sides.”
“Nobody’s asked you to pick sides, Erel. I just know I’m safer in the Spark’s household than Himself’s… ‘specially lately.”
The two men regarded each other. “Yeah, me too. And Dur’s a good man… He’d be a good man for the Spark’s household… all those boys he has. He understands boys.” Neither man mentioned that Antras was completely smitten with Durinibas and wanted to court him, as well.
“You have an in with the Second Under-Chamberlain?”
“His wife’s a third cousin.”
“Lucky you. We’ll see if we can get a few people traded around, in case the Spark needs more… discreet help.”
“Sounds good, Antras. I owe you from getting me in from the Winter Palace staff.”
“It was nothing. You had a taste of Sparky when they were out there last and you just happened to mention it.”
“I’ll remember… By the way… I thought you were on duty too, the day the lads all got drunk? Did you SEE the face on the First Stone-face when they carried the sodden Spark in from the roof?”
“I wish I’d seen when he upchucked all over FSF’s boots!”
The bell from the Spark’s rooms jangled them out of their gossip. “I’m still on,” Erelas said. “You’ve got a meal coming.”
“Thanks, I’ll see you before you go fall into bed. Night, Erelas.”
“Night, Antras.”
The door opened as he put his cup in the bin, to let in the late-night shift kitchen cleaners and a pair of boot-boys all looking for a cup of kaf and a moment to drink it, before their duties started.
I folded up the Pages and put them back in their archive boxes. “Binshala, would you have someone take these back to the library, please?”
While she summoned someone to come and do that, I sat down on my chaise on my balcony, to think. Everyone was not talking about the Yeoli war now. Not only was any mention of Chevenga in front of Father dangerous, but any mention of the war at all.
Reamas Kaitzas aitzas, was the Minister for Dissemination and did not come often into the offices of Irefas, where all the true information for Father came. I’d have to start going down to look through the files there.
The clerks wouldn’t dare to stop me, and they also would probably not want to mention what I was looking at to either their superiors or to anyone who would have Father’s ear.
I’d have to see what came into the Pages, as well. The editors… all of them would be very, very careful when I was around, because of the Mahid lessons wreaked on them from last time. I’d have to make myself a fixture, until I could find the good spots to overhear people without them knowing. Or I could hire one of the Pages people… to cover the war for me.
But how could I get someone I could trust to tell me what was really going on? I wasn’t even sure where to start.
I was still mulling it over when Ordas came running in to inform me that Koren and the others were already in my school hall and was I coming? “I’ll come back with you, Ordas. Thank you.”
“Um. You’re welcome.” Of my six, Ordas was still the one most shy of me. I flung an arm over his shoulder and for a blink he stiffened, but I was only thinking friendly thoughts not the ugly ones, so he relaxed after a breath or two.
“I’m glad I have you and all the others. I never thought I’d say that… Thank you.” I caught the shy smile out of the corner of my eye. I gave him a half-hug and let him go.
Koren had his materials all laid out when we came in and I had a thought. He was my teacher, why not take advantage of his being there? Let him teach.
“Koren,” I said as I sat down, and as he opened his mouth for the first ‘ahem’. He swallowed what he was going to say along with his phlegm and looked attentive. “I realize you have your agenda but I have a request.”
“Yes, Spark of the Sun’s Ray?”
“I understand I must have historical grounding but I find myself vastly interested in current events. Might we… focus on those for the next little while rather than delving in dusty tomes?”
“I… ahem… current events? Ahem… that is… ahem… most commendable, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”
“I’m finding myself dissatisfied with Pages reports, however. Do you, as my tutor, have any advice on how I might find accurate and true information on current – happenings, wars, security actions, and such? Without disturbing my Divine Father, of course.”
He coughed sharply instead of employing his throat clearing gulp. “No, Spark of the Sun’s Ray, I am merely a tutor, not a research scholar. Any information brought to me, we will of course analyse and put into context.” Forzak it. “Ahem… now I have a thought that the Spark and I haven’t yet considered the novel reading list.” He fussed through his papers a moment while I stared at him, confused. He’d never mentioned a novel reading list. What was he going on about?
“The Spark, when considering literature should contemplate, ‘The Prisoner of Rand’, ‘The Coronet Regal’s Inquiry’, and ahem ‘The Aitzas of Divine Mountain’, in that order. I suggest the Spark read them, ahem, expeditiously. Until then, shall we consider our lessons on the Economics and development of the rejin in its current form, beginning with the Schism War reforms?”
I nodded and opened my books, suddenly much more interested in the novels mentioned than the material being presented so carefully to the seven of us. It was a struggle to sit through a bead and a half about the Schism Wars thousands of years ago, but I tried. And I realized after a while that the so-called reforms to the structure and functioning of a rejin, though more than five hundred years old, were still in place despite the flaws pointed out by the High General Filibas Oren, and the half-measures laws presented to, and rejected by, the Imperator at the time.
The rejins and command structure of the Empire hadn’t, glaring idiocies notwithstanding —in effect—been changed in eight hundred and fourteen fikken years? There was a lot more than just Pages reports starting to raise a strange stench in my head.
How much of this was true? How much of this, however true it might be on paper… was still accurate? I realized that I didn’t even know who the High General in the field was and who did he report to in the Marble Palace? Did he report straight to Father? And if he did, how? There were pigeon messages coming in from the fronts every day, from the Eastern Empire and the Western, dispatch pouches coming in from every rejin and naval base and fortress. Father never looked at them. Who did? Father was supposed to be the High General. Who had he delegated to do this, if He wasn’t?
When I closed my books and released my companions to prepare for the next meal, saying I’d follow along shortly, I sat for a half-tenth trying to figure it out, before realizing I truly knew nothing about the actual running of the Empire.
I felt as though I’d just discovered I was riding on a huge war-ship, a double trireme with the battle deck across both hulls, the deck loaded with people, not just warriors, but all of Arko. The warship is moving under the steady stroking of the solas below but I look up and realize that not only is there no one steering but Father is busy making the steersman serve him while the massive juggernaut goes on, unattended, being driven toward a deadly whirlpool that I and everyone else on the deck can see.
We’re all quietly saying to each other. “Did you see that? Yes, but I’m not sure, we should ask someone else.” And that person just says “No, the Divine one says everything is good. Everything is all right, so ignore the fact that the boat is starting to shake and be pulled apart by that monsterous wave…” There’s no way to get Father’s attention, and no one dares stand up and start screaming.
And I, clinging to the possibly disintegrating rail, perhaps condemned to Hayel, didn’t even dare pray for fear the Gods might be offended at that and kick us all into the maelstrom that much faster.

Friday, August 28, 2009

104 - Grass Through A Goose

My Minimal. The Minister of Internal Serenity has complained of your outrageous behavior. You are leading your companions dreadfully astray and if this kind of behavior continues I shall have to correct all of you most harshly.
The cost of repairs and refurbishment will be coming out of your household budget. The chamberlain of the aitza’s quarters is most upset as well. Not only are the women complaining over the disturbance to their pets, the animals were overfed on sausage and are accordingly incontinent. Very funny, my son. If you do this again I shall have you and your companions take the place of the slaves and clean up the messes you are responsible for.
I found the servant standing with the note as I rose from my final prostration from 1010s, the next day. I was groggy from not enough sleep, but reading the message from Father made me want to go back to bed, with relief.
I accepted the towel from the slave and wiped my face before turning to my companions. Under Dekinas Tobeas’s pinched face I certainly wasn’t going to say ‘we got slapped on the wrist, Dad couldn’t be bothered to speak to me about it Himself’. “My companions.”
They all looked attentive. “We have been most severely reprimanded for our reckless behavior the other day. My Father warns us that we should consider the consequences of what we do.”
For a wonder it wasn’t Definas who spoke up but Silasas. “We will be most attentive to the Divine’s august and wise words, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.” His face was solemn but his eyes twinkled and it was all I could do to keep a straight face.
“Yes, Pasen. It will be encumbent on us to never do such things again,” I answered him just as pompously. The Dekinas closed his holy book with a snap as someone, he didn’t turn quick enough to see it was my companion Tobeas, sniggered.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray. Good morning.”
“Until your Divinely inspired lesson this afternoon, Dekinas.”
“So?” Fil leaned over in the hot pool to make his whisper heard over the cascade’s rush against the stones. “I know we don’t want to know. Tell us anyway. Did you get the remedies to the Haians?”
I looked around at their earnest faces. Danger or not, they deserved to know.
“Yeah. Misahis is down in a hall off the White Corridor.” They all flinched at that. “There are other Haians down there too. They healed someone my Sire didn’t want healed.”
“Was that…Shefenkas, of Yeola-e?” Tomeas whispered. Of course. Father flung the name around enough now… I nodded.
“I passed everyone remedies, and listened to them… I can bring them light… they’re in the dark cells were there’s no light at all unless the Mahid bring them a lamp.
“Kaina marugh meniren,” Def whispered. “And we can’t help you get down there. You’re the only one with permission.”
I nodded and put my chin on my fist. I wasn’t going to tell them that 1st Amitzas had given me tacit permission to help the Haians, though. “I’ll be down there as much as I think I can get away with. People are going to think I’m a complete asshole, torturing Haians.”
Ordas ducked under and came up, scraping his hair out of his eyes. “Do you want us to enhance that image? Or play it down?”
I thought about it for a moment. “If it’s anywhere Father can hear… play it up. Play it down with everyone else, or just be neutral. It will be safer, just to be neutral about it and about me. Everyone will just figure you’re enduring me.”
“All right, Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”
“So let us go get my little brother and do some more swimming lessons!”
I sent Binshala away with the tray she had, because I would rather swim than eat and as far as anyone knew we were just splashing around in the shallow parts, not doing anything so déclassé as actually swimming.
Strategic Retreat In Yeola-e
The Pages had more and more such headlines, if they had prominent headlines about the Yeoli war at all. They seemed to be running mostly stories about the western empire, the northern negotiations, the strange disappearances of Arkan ships in a certain area of the sea.
The Yeoli war had suddenly dropped to the back pages. The article made much of Abatzas Kallen’s brilliant plan to draw the last remaining Yeoli forces into an untenable situation where they could be destroyed once and for all.
I pulled out my own ‘Maps of the Known World’ and checked. The city mentioned was not the Capitol… where General Teleken had been killed in action. That had been Muunas 25. There had been a big front page article on the evil actions of the Yeolis and their demonic ability to put their elite in a place where no sane person could expect them. Chevenga had been prominently talked about in that article.
Of course I glossed over the descriptions of him that made him hideous and one step removed from the Summoner to Death. He could fight. Haiu Menshir had healed him up so much that he could not only fight but come up with a plan of action to out-think Triadas. Even though I was glad to read everything about Chevenga I flinched for Arko’s sake that Triadas died. I’d have to sacrifice another dagger to Aras for his sake. Another dagger, or the value thereof. The priests and Dekinas preferred value over the object itself.
I went back to the Pages of that time, pulling them out of their cases in the library.
Selina Taken! One front page headline shouted.
Ereala River Open!
Teleken Victorious!
Champion at Vae Arahi!
I took them all back to my room and against my own map of Yeola-e followed the attack, as much as it hurt, either way.
I’d never sat down and looked at the whole war. Never done more than think, in passing, vaguely wishing it would go away because it put my friend and I in conflict. Wanting Arko to win because it was Arko, it was home. Wanting Chevenga to win because he… wanted to be free.
I sat, surrounded by papers and really thought about it. It was one thing to promise to free Yeola-e, now I looked at it, it made strategic sense. Father had us fighting in the sea. The disappearances were probably not some kind of un-earthly, demonic phenomenon but more likely the actions of hostile people. So there was a war of sorts happening there.
I imagined the Triremes on the blue sea, in flames, sinking, with solas clinging to spars or dragged down by their armour. The enemy… some nameless, faceless island culture fighting us, drowning us.
Kurkania and all along the far western coast there was enough unrest to keep the garrisons there fully occupied. They were always calling for re-inforcements. I had heard the songs, read the Pages articles describing Kallijas Itrean out there, fighting to hold what the rejins had taken. Tribes pushing back on the walls we had thrown up, forcing the gates. I could see the villages in flames, solas fighting hard to defend Arkan settlers, children screaming, trying to waken parents who could not waken from death.
I shook my head, trying to thrust these images out of it. I couldn’t help putting myself in some of those scenes, the stupid, idiotic sword forms I was being taught getting me killed in the first wave, my brother the screaming child trying to wake my body.
Father tended to toss the reinforcement requests into his brazier saying they were doing well enough with what they had, that they just needed to fight harder. Father sitting locked inside the keep, ignoring Ilesias and I and all the others dying outside, because we just needed to fight harder?
Didn’t solas need rest time, also? Didn’t the injured need time to recover? There were a dozen brushfire wars burning all through the Empire, holding actions in areas conquered less than a century ago where rebels were called bandits and bandits – rebels. The solas quarter had burned out miniatures in front of every nearly every house, or the black ribbons with gold thread denoting the fallen in battle. How many wars were there?
How many solas could the Empire lose? Father had started the Yeoli war with all of this going on and now…My eye fell on another headline, Yeoli Capitol Burned. I imagined Chevenga’s home burning… I wasn’t sure the shape of Yeoli buildings… but the place he grew up in. The flames would reflect in his eyes. I threw my hands over my own eyes as if I could shut out that thought, that image.
That story was short. It said only that the brilliant General, having lost both the city and condemned the Champion Kallijas Itrean to death for having lost the duel and the city to the Yeolis, ordered it burned to deny them the victory.
I had a three collectible cards tucked into the edge of a mirror inside my daywear closet, where Father would never see them. From the Imperator series… Ilesias the Great, in the war armor. The Champion card of Itrean in his red-enamelled steel armor, from the Rejins series, next to one of Chevenga as a Fifty Chainer in the Mezem series.
I had learned every song about Kallijas Itrean, to my music master’s distress because they were hardly grand music, but they were real. Every story made him out to be the honorable man, the grand solas who would have stood at Ilesias the Great’s side. And General Kallen… condemned him. He must have been too Great for Abatzas Kallen. He was a prisoner of the Yeolis. I sent a prayer to Aras for him.
Everything after the reports of Teleken being killed… stank. After High General Abatzas Kallen, had replaced Teleken the strategic withdrawals and retreats began. I knew, from personal experience how much that family valued intelligence. Abatzas Kallen had the smarts of a damp bag of sand, much like his great-nephew and he was now in command of the Yeoli war against Chevenga, a smart, smart man.
Even recovering from torture and every vileness my Father and my Empire could do to him, Chevenga would take his country back faster than grass through a goose.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

103 - Merchoser's Rescue

It was the strangest thing, sitting on the cold stone floor in front of one of the dark cells, my eyes fixed on a Haian’s face through the bars.
“I was as fresh faced as any new graduate, setting off on my service, to Tor Ench, actually. The ship was taken by pirates. Horoken himself, wielding that mythical sword of his.” He paused a long moment, eyes staring off into time.
“He was pleased to have acquired a Haian, even one trained for Tor Ench. He said most nationalities bled the same.” Merchoser looked down then. “I can tell you that the rumors about Horoken and his sons… no they were not double manheight tall. Their teeth were not filed, nor were they made of steel. They had skin like anyone else, not scales, or hide, nor was it made of stone.
“Horoken’s heart wasn’t stone. I listened to it beat often enough before he vanished and left his pirate kingdom to his sons. But the rumours that were true…the ones about them being cannibals, were correct. Everyone on the ship who was not ransomed for a high enough price… they ate.”
I stared at him. What must it have been like, a Haian, to be forced into close proximity to their worst nightmare? It was true? Horoken would have eaten children? I wanted to throw up.
“So I healed them and their victims. I cared for their wives, the aitza they’d captured and claimed as wives and their children. For nineteen years. After the old one vanished into the sea… leaving that sword of his broken on the sand… the sons pirated less and less and mostly stayed home, letting the sea give them the occasional treat. They became mostly wreckers. And I sat in my clinic, when they left me alone… and drank myself into a stupor more often than not.”
“It was a response to pain, Merchoser,” Kaninden interjected. “Even self inflicted alcohol poisoning is useful occasionally.”
They were all listening. They would have known this, before, but it was all new to me. “They all trained… the oldest five ruled the roost with the old man gone, Mettkias was the eldest and when a storm wracked the sea, they all took their runs along the shore to mark out the wreckage that would wash in over the reef that had eaten the ship, and to gather up the survivors and bring them back to the manor house.” He paused and got up slowly, to get some water. “It’s good that I move,” he said. “There’s no bubbling under the bandages so my lung isn’t truly punctured. And motion helps the recovery if there is no infection.”
I nodded and waited, on tenterhooks… it sounded like there was a shipwreck in the story. “And one day Nuninibas, the second oldest, brought in a number of survivors for me to heal. Like good husbandmen, they wanted their livestock in good shape before the slaughter.” He brought his water back to the bars and sat down again. “The shipwreck survivors had the usual abrasions, contusions, strains and cuts one gets in such an accident, except for one fellow who had more healed scars and flog-marks than he should have survived as well. He had this awful scar on his face, across his right cheek. You already know, it was Chivinga.”
“The month-captain stood close by, speaking for him. She told me he was an escaped slave from Arko tortured to muteness. She didn’t mention his name to me then. I was already longing for the bottle I had hidden in my cabinet and when she went off to talk to the others I’d already healed I went for it. I figured the mute man wouldn’t be able to say anything about my drinking. And I usually wasn’t allowed to speak by the Horoken’s anyway.”
“I had no idea what I was about to unleash,” he said, an odd mix of horror-stricken and glad on his face. He sipped from his water glass, almost reflexively. “I had a swig or two and looked into my patient’s intense and above all quiet eyes, and dared speak. ‘You poor, poor men and women… You have no idea, no idea at all who your amiable hosts are and what your fates are going to be.’
“That’s what I said to him, thinking that in his muteness, I was safe.” He sipped again as if his water were the wine he’d drunk then."'Those young men? They’re Horoken’s sons and they will devour you all, you all.' I said to him."
His words had taken on a drunken cadence. “'Nineteen years in this deathly place, my lad and I’ve seen people just like you go down to the knives. I’m so sorry.' That's what I told him then, the longest I'd spoken in moons." He put his water cup down with a click and I was startled to not smell alcohol. Merchoser was so far into the memory, his voice was slurred. I could almost feel the other Haians listening. Was him telling me this helping him, somehow? I held my tongue and listened, terrified for Chevenga, though I knew he was alive and free and healed.
“Next thing I knew is this silent man had me—quite gently given what I’d just told him—by both wrists and is nose to nose with me. I blinked at him and he softly said ‘What did you just say? What did you just tell me, Haian?' He just began speaking. Just like that. He’d gotten the bottle away from me and had me by the wrists so fast I felt like I blinked and our positions just changed.”
“I couldn’t speak again immediately. I was so frightened and startled by his transformation. And he waited for me. Waited for me to take a breath. ‘I… ummm… said this is all for form because they’re the sons of Horoken, and inside a moon, before the supply ship comes, you’ll all be dead.’ I managed to whisper that.”
He was very quiet but spoke clearly. 'Did they lie about the supply ship twice a moon?'”
“'No,'” I told him, starting to shake in his grip. I shouldn’t have done this, I thought. This time the Horokens would kill me.
"'Are there any weapons in the house?' he asked me and I had to tell him only those in the weapons locker. Mettkias had the key. And I told him that too and about the broken old ships, the rotten remnants left of Horoken’s fleet in the ship barn.”
“He got it all out of me before I broke down completely and started shaking so hard I couldn’t get the words out past rattling teeth. I was terrified because I’d just told him. They’d punish me if they found out their victims knew and might fight back. I started weeping and this man who I’d thought was a helpless torture victim gathered me into his arms and told me all I had to do was be quiet.”
Merchoser’s face reflected a longing I didn’t understand at first, but when he spoke again I thought I could. “I scrambled to try and get my bottle back and he held me away from it. 'You don’t need that, Merchoser. You can do it. Would it be out of character for you to be too drunk to talk? Pretend.’
I shook my head and he said. ‘However you do it, for all our lives, Merchoser, don’t let on. Hold your silence as if you were stumble-tongue drunk.’ I had another bottle stashed away and I had a little more to drink after he left. All I had to do was be quiet and trust him. And hope.”
“It happened in the diningroom. I sat, mostly with my eyes closed, pushing the food around on my plate. I opened my eyes when Chivinga started it. He was armed… I didn’t see the fight. I saw the first blood fly and hid under the table with my hands over my ears and my eyes clamped shut tight. I didn’t want to see any more. I’d seen too much in my years with the Horokens."
"I don’t know if he killed them all himself or if the sailors helped him, but he got a wound, similar to this…” he jerked a thumb at the bandage on his chest. “And I healed him of it. It got infected and nearly killed him.” His hand settled on the bandage under his robe, on his own torso, a connection to Chevenga, in a way. He sat silent on the stone across from me for a long moment.
“He killed them? And set you free?” I looked at the frayed edge of my night robe where my fists were knotted. He nodded at me.
“Thank you for telling me. Thank you for healing him.” I spoke to the whole corridor. “I know you can’t all hear me… and I know you’d do it just because you’re healers, Haians… but thank you.”
Merchoser, looking tired, but in a strange way also satisfied, nodded at me. “You’re welcome, Minis. You’re right. Because we are Haians, and we would heal anyone who needed.” From him, that truly meant something. “I need to lie down again.”
“Oh, please do.” I offered him my hand to help him up, through the bars. He looked at me and my hand and took it, slowly. His fingers were cold. “I’ll keep doing what I can. You all hang on. I’m sure your Spirit of Life is with you.”
I had to run back to give Misahis one last hug, the bars pressed harsh between us, before I hammered on the door to be let out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

102 - You don't want to know

Dear Che,
You’d be proud of me, I think… I have six friends now. I am teaching them all to swim because they demanded it and we’re passing Ilesias back and forth in the pool so he’s learning to paddle around too!
Dear Chevenga,
You’d be upset with me I think… I’m pretending to own part of your country and a thousand of your people. They’re very good at dissembling. The garrison at Kara has no idea that the area isn’t pacified and he can focus on the huge problems he’s got at Kara. It’s all treason but they seem to be willing to keep my secret, and willing to work with the fellow I hired as a factor… he’s an honest man—even at his own expense--and if you ever need some Arkan to work for you look him up… his name’s Inthilin Amras, aitzas.
Dear Che,
You’d be proud of me, I think… I managed to find Misahis and my friends and I got his remedy case to him and the other Haians in the cells.
Dear Chevenga,
You’d be disappointed in me, I think… because I couldn’t get them out.
Dear Che,
You’d be proud of me, I think… because I’ve gotten 1st Amitzas kind of at a détente with me… he and I don’t talk about it but he’s not hurting the Haians the way Father wants… and he’s not stopping me helping them.
Dear Chevenga,
You’d hate me, I think… because of what I did, and what I’ve done. I’m so much like Father it isn’t funny and the Gods will send me to Hayel for hating Him… I’m confused by it all…
I found I couldn’t necessarily confess my letters to Chevenga to the flames and bundled them together, keeping them in my horde… It was a little like talking to him, so I kept writing them. It’s not as though anyone but me was going to see them, ever, anyway.
1st Amitzas had left the corridor dark behind him and the silence was deadly. “Misahis, I’m sorry…” Sorry to disturb him, when Amitzas had just been there, working? How dumb was that? “It’s Minis.”
“Minis.” His voice from the end of the row was no weaker thank the Ten. I set the lamp in the niche opposite. Eight cells. All full. Of Haians.
“Did he hurt you?” I set my robe on the floor and the case. Would the case fit through the bars? I hadn’t thought of that, and wouldn’t be allowed a key to his cell. Forzak it. He was at the bars and sat down opposite me. I put the case up to the bars and it wouldn’t fit. I leaned my head against those stupid bars, so tired all of a sudden I couldn’t think straight.
“Minis,” Misahis reached through the bars and hugged my head with his hands. “Just open it and give me the vials… I don’t need the whole case… but if you empty it and undo the clasps it folds together… see?”
Of course. It was full… empty it would fit. “Are you all right, Misahis? You hide this, okay? Amitzas saw me bring it in but didn’t say anything. I think he’s letting me help you, but we can’t talk about it with each other.”
His smile was wonderful to see, though his hands shook as he started taking the remedy vials in through the bars. “Here… take this on up to the first cell… if you can reach Alchaen there… put two drops on his lips if he is in your reach… all right?” If I could reach? Why couldn’t he just… oh…
“Is Alchaen the healer who fixed Shefenka’s… um… obedience…problem?” I meant the complete obedience only to Father but Misahis understood.
“Yes. He is not moving without direct command from 1st Amitzas. I hope you can reach him from the bars.”
I took the vial up and found that whoever had placed Al…chaen his name was, had put the pallet he lay on fairly near the bars. I could reach him if I stretched. He lay completely still, eyes open and blinking occasionally and I fought back tears as I remembered Chevenga in this state. It was somehow worse to see his healer… the one who had healed him from it… reduced to this. The drops went onto his lips and I whispered. “You are allowed to take this in, Alchaen.” I re-stoppered the bottle and laid a hand on the top of his head, that I could reach more easily.
“You fixed this for Shefenka but there must be those who will be able to fix it for you. Ten Gods, you don’t deserve this. You’ll heal… I pray you’ll heal. I hope you can hear me, in there. You’ll heal.”
The next cell across held a woman. She stood, clutching the bars, watching me, in the dim light of the one lamp, her warm brown features, drawn. She – they all—still wore the black Haian robes, the white stripe like a priest’s stole, soiled.
I couldn’t think what to say. It seemed the world’s rudest thing to ask what had been done to her. “What’s your name?”
“Kaninden,” she said. “I’m a surgeon. Be careful of Megidan in the next cell. He’s given her drugs causing delusions and she is set off very easily.”
“Minis!” Misahis called me back. “Here. Give this to Kaninden and see if you can coax Megidan to the bars to take this…”
“All right.” I went back up to Kaninden who watched me, face pressed to the bars. There was no sign of movement from Megidan’s cell. Or the others. “May I ask… what did you heal Shefenka of?”
“And suffering from now?” she said dryly. “I heard Misahis and I’ll take the remedy, thank you.” I gave her the whole vial. “I cut the grium sefalien, hm… germ of the head, out of his head.”
“Oh.” A brain surgeon? “I didn’t even know that was possible.” She took the remedy under her tongue.
“Yes. And I am hoping that my apprentices will be able to do the same for me. In under two years.”
“They will.” I told her firmly. “You’ll all be able to heal, I’m sure of that.” I didn’t know how, but if I could give them some kind of hope, some kind of the same reassurance that Haians gave… it was part of them, their conviction that Life would work toward healing. “Your Spirit of Life, or our Ten Gods, will see to that.”
“Thank you,” she said quietly and made to hand the remedy back to me, but Misahis called up and told me to put them in everyone’s cell and leave them there if I could. She nodded at that and the vial disappeared into her sleeve pocket.
The two men next to Kaninden and Alchaen, across from each other, gave me their names, Taekin of Haiuroru and Tajenden of Kibir, and took the remedies but refused to speak to me otherwise. They were frightened and I understood why they wanted to retreat to the backs of their cells.
The man next door to Tajenden was barely sitting up. He was more injured than she, but he was sitting up now, on his pallet on the floor, watching me, and another man on the other side of Taekin's cell.
He was dressed as a Haian, but his face was lighter, his hair wavier… he was a mixed-breed of some kind, very short, just a tiny bit taller than I was, child size. I took the remedy to Megidan’s cell as softly as I could, the others still watching me, and sat down with my shoulder to the bar, not looking directly into the cell.
They’d said, be careful, and I’d heard her screaming before. That must have been her. I started to hum a lullaby, playing with the vial as if it weren’t important, looking away down the corridor. “Megidan,” I said quietly, still not looking in. “Megidan, it’s all right. I won’t hurt you.”
There was a rustle of cloth but I didn’t look, trying to see how close she was. If it had been anyone but a Haian I wouldn’t have risked sitting so close. Delusions often triggered violent behavior in anyone but Haians. “Megidan. I won’t hurt you. I have something that will help, if you want it.”
I risked a glance into the cell and found myself eye to eye with the wildest looking Haian I’d ever seen. Her eyes were white all the way around and her features distorted with fear and confusion. Her hair was wild and her clothing torn… it looked as though she’d been ripping at them herself. She was much closer than I thought and I had to keep myself from flinching away from the nightmare that she must be living. “Megidan. I won’t hurt you. My name is Minis. A little name, right? A safe name. I won’t hurt you.” I looked away, didn’t move anything other than my eyes.
Then, without looking at the vial in my hand I held it out flat on my palm in front of me, parallel to the bars. “This is for you, if you want it.” I could hear her breathing, ragged and uneven, off to the side.
“Megidan, it’s Kaninden. You know me. Take the remedy, Megidan.” Kaninden called from across the corridor.
We all sat and waited. I tried to sit as quietly as I could. “That’s good, Minis. Keep that up,” Misahis called softly.
There was a sudden motion from Megidan, her hand clawed out and snatched the vial from me before she scrambled away from me to the far corner of the cell, clutching it to her chest as if it were the most precious thing in the world. She huddled in the corner, curled around it, her whole body quivering as she worked the stopper out and shook the little globules into her mouth.
“Shh… shh, Megidan… it will be all right… You’ll heal.” From the cell next to hers I could hear the child-sized healer… the non-Haian, Haian.
“You vill be all right Megidan. It vill be all right.” His accent was mostly Haian but he must have moved to Haiu Menshir from somewhere else, Brahvniki perhaps? I went to his cell next.
“Hello, Minis. Ay em Piatsri, and before you ask, yes I am recovering from something I cured Shchevenga of, and you don’t want to know.”
“I’m sure I don’t want to. But, of your courtesy, if you could tell me, please?” He and I are eye to eye for a long moment and Misahis called me to get the remedies for Piatsri. I turn away to do that and when I came back and handed them to him, he said quietly. “I will be working to recover my fertility.”
How is that possible? They can’t have removed… they didn’t remove Chevenga’s testicles… He’s right, I don’t want to know.
I could understand the pain creasing around his eyes then, the drawn look. “You’re working to fix this yourself? Is there something else, other than remedies I can get you to help you?”
He sighed. “Not really. It is a matter of energy… and protein… I am not like other Haians who eat no meat. I will let myself heal up until I have the means to fix the damage.”
“I’ll try and get you what you need. I don’t know how but since Amitzas let me carry Misahis’s remedy case in here without saying anything, I might be allowed to do other things.”
“Thank you, Minis.”
From across the corridor, the Haian sitting on his pallet called to me, “I wouldn’t mind a drink.”
I turned to him. “Aren’t you getting enough water?”
“I’m Merchoser and I’m not talking about water. You Arkans…” He started to sob. “I’ve been held by Arkans for more than twenty years now…” I grabbed the bars, appalled. He meant alcohol. Haians didn’t touch the stuff, usually.
“Shh… Shh. Merchoser. You’ll be all right.” That was both Kaninden and Piatsri. “You don’t need that poison. Your wound is healing.”
“You’re wounded.”
“Yes. The old Mahid stuck a knife into my chest-wall because I healed Chivinga—“ the Haian pronounciation of the name “—of a sucking and infected chest wound after he fought the sons of Horoken.” Merchoser had quit sobbing, and taken a drink from a waterglass next to his pallet.
“Horoken? Horoken the Accursed? The sons of Horoken the Accursed?” Only the most feared pirate in the Arkan sea. The name that Arkan mothers used to frighten little children into obedience. ‘Be good or Horoken will come and eat you.’
How… how had Chevenga done that? I shook my head hard. “He… um.. you… um… Horoken?”
“Yes. I can tell you the whole story if you like. Chivinga saved me, got me home to Haiu Menshir after nineteen years held captive by the Horokens… and now I’m here, held captive by the Mahid.” He held his chest and tried to take a deep breath. “Not much different.”
I went back to Misahis, who wordlessly handed me vials, nodding at me. “Um… Merchoser… can you reach these? Is it too hard to get up?” He was already working on getting to his feet. I could understand why of all the Haians here, he seemed the one with the roughest edges.
“I’ll reach the remedies. And if you want I’ll tell you about being rescued from Horokens by my own patient. Chivinga was without words, until he was under threat… then the illness inflicted on him by Arko was suppressed until the danger was over.”
He managed to get to his feet. “This, in truth, is very light compared to what I healed him of… don’t mention that to the Mahid, would you? I’m assuming no one would dare truth-drug you.”
“Only Father.”
“Hmph. Well.” He took the few steps to the bars and sat down, gingerly, supporting his chest with both hands. “Give me the remedies, and sit down. I’ll tell you all about it.”