The faibalitz season was opening with the last year’s champions, the Fighting Anoseth Aitzas versus the Mahid team. The Mahid Team didn’t have a fancy name, but then there was only one.The Fifty, the pre-eminent aitzas families were all there in force, with their families. The cream of the cream had the best and the most seats, those closest to the Imperial thrones. I sat still as I could in the ‘casual’ robe I wore, since the settings for the gemstones pinched if I moved wrong.
Since I was getting closer to second threshold Father had decided I needed to begin wearing the robes that were miniature copies of His. Mine, I suspected, were heavier because Father would never put up with that nonsense, especially since he would be throwing out the first disc of the year. And I was his canvas to display himself on, in a way.
The Mahid settle was not quite as preternaturally still as it usually was for some reason and the Fighting Aitzas were lauding one of theirs, even going so far as to nudge their shoulders against his and all he’d apparently done was show up. I wondered what the story was there as the ‘first ups’ or ‘pelutas line’ did their warm-up laps, backwards and forwards, doing baby hops and kicks to stretch out their legs.
They had, of course, done the serious warm up where no one could see. In these public laps the players either hid their skill or flaunted it, depending on what their coaches plotted.
There was no nonsense about crude wine or food or trinket sellers, like in the Mezem, especially for the Opening. Every family sent their own retainers down to pick up the trays of canapés and musbushas and crystal goblets of wines that made the Puckered Fig’s stock look like raw nakiti. Everyone wore new clothing, often in the pure white that the teams sported, with jewels in the correct colours.
So today Father and I had over-robes in cloth of gold and cloth of silver and our gems were jet and onyx and black diamonds. We even had matching forehead pendants... the largest black diamonds in the world, surrounded with white diamond chips. Even Ilesias was dressed in copper robe and black diamonds, though his were all in places he wouldn’t be able to pull them off and swallow them.
The minstrel’s gallery had the melodias players to start with and they would give way to the trumpeters and choral game callers for the game itself. Meras stood at one side of their team’s settle, which was under our chairs so close we could talk to the players if we chose.
Father rose ponderously to His feet and the low murmur died to silence and the first-ups swooped over the edge and down to their places in the bowl, the two captains at the center. “Muunas bless the faibalitzkabas and the disc itself,” Father said ponderously, His lip curling in the closest to a wide smile He’d had in eight days. This was one ceremony He loved.
The Head Referee, in his bright scarlet shirt carefully opened the disc box and offered it on his knees. Father took it and it slipped out of his fingers to hit the Referee on the head, who caught it and re-offered it. Of course no one laughed, or even smiled, but people had practice, especially with the faib disc. A couple of years ago He’d actually hit and knocked out one of the captains.
He raised the disc again and heaved it down toward the middle of the bowl. Nuninibas Mahid made a token jump to catch the disc but let the yokel take it. One cannot check the disc carrier right off the jump but must take three steps before, just to be sure that the the player who actually gained control didn’t just get taken out in the first heartbeat of the game.
I couldn’t easily jump up and down with all the weight but I could cheer. Even against the Mahid team the Anoseths were good. It looked as though they’d actually trained through the off-season, something that most teams didn’t bother with.
It was fantastic that the Mahid had to push hard to keep up and, of course, ‘accidents’ began happening. An elbow would come up too high while checking, someone would get ‘inadvertently’ tangled as they went down and get smeared along the bottom curve of the bowl, or slammed into the wall.
The one Anoseth that his team had been so happy to see and whose appearance had caused such near-invisible consternation among the Mahid was their secret star player. “Firas Kraskiyas!” The Chorus sang, as the young man appeared swooping up out of nowhere to snatch a mis-throw that turned it into a perfect play and a goal. “... has the discas from Ridon Birias!” They sang yet again, soaring up to the high note for the goal. The ladies in the crowd hummed their approval, in key with the Chorus.
The weight of darkness seemed to loom up from the Mahid settle as they clung to the tie game and more rusty blood spots showed stark against the once pristine whites. Kraskiyas looked as though he’d been dipped in a butchery, around his white grin, uniform drenched from where his nose had met Betkias Mahid’s elbow.
Despite that, when the Chorus cried the end of game time, the Anoseths’ hadn’t managed to pull away from the Mahid and Meras and Nuninibas both looked calm again. Not happy but then Mahid only tried that alien expression during Jitz.