They trickled into my rooms in three groups, Tob and Def and Sil as one, Tom and Ord the second. Fil came in last and bundled everyone’s skates into the companion’s rooms before joining us.
“Did you see the one woman? Pretty even if you couldn’t see her face!”--“We got a dozen dogs down all the way to the Ministry Beauteous and chased the Minister’s big old cat right on top of his head!” “Really? Oh shen, and I missed it?” “We couldn’t get them to follow us the other way so we came back to Diligent Inquiry and you saw us!”
We laughed and snorted and giggled together, laughing harder and harder until we lay in a heap of weakly sniggering boys, swearing that if we laughed any more we’d pee on each other and of course someone farted and that set us all off again.
“Boys! Boys!” It was Iamis, the Companion’s Chamberlain, standing in the closet door, looking scandalized. “What would the Spark think if he found you in a heap upon the floor of his shoe cl—“ I fought my way out from under Sil’s overtunic sleeves and his tongue glued itself to the roof of his mouth.
“I’d say we were having fun, Ser Iamis. We were telling jokes and… um… We were just going to go into the Baths and get clean, weren’t we, my Companions?”
Def grinned at me, turned away from the Chamberlain. “Oh, this lowly one most earnestly desires cleanliness, exalted of the Sun’s Most Divine Radiance.” I snorted and clamped a hand over my mouth to not laugh in the man’s face as everyone earnestly agreed and we scrambled out around him, dropping our clothing as we went. “Yes, oh, yes, Spark of the Sun’s Ray, Lesser Baths, yes.”
“Thank you, Iamis, we’ll close the doors on our noise,” I threw over my shoulder and as the outer wooden doors shut out his adult face, Fil drew himself up tall and looked down his nose at the rest of us. “Boys! Boys!” He looked so much like Iamis I fell right over into the cool pool and when I surfaced, treading water, found them all terrified at the edge thinking I was drowning. I splashed water at them.
“You can swim?” Tom looked intrigued. “Does the Imperator know?”
“No. Nobody does… um… please don’t tell.”
Silasas looked grim. “Of course we won’t tell!” Then he grinned like a street urchin. “If you teach us!”
It would probably take at least another day for the Minister of Internal Serenity to formally complain to Father about our rampant disregard for Serenity, and Undiligent hooliganism, so I resolved to have Misahis’s remedies in his hands this night. That way it would be all done and I wouldn’t have some other nefarious plan waiting in my head and I’d be able to take my punishment with a clear conscience.
After dinner my companions and I sat to listen to Koren’s lecture on vitality of smoothing running Government, and he either chose his topic deliberately or wondered at what we found funny in his lecture.
I dismissed them all for the evening then, with admonitions to behave themselves… which of course set off a whole new round of comments that Koren clearly put down to boys being stupid boys. Def had to get in the last word. “This lowly one is shocked, Divine Spark that the elevated one sees the necessity of such admonishment.” I shot him a look that promised I’d get him back for that one, later. Then I realized. ‘Get him back for it,’ didn’t mean ruin, kill, destroy or brutally humiliate. It felt wonderful. I waved them off with a smile.
Things Chevenga had told me about making friends, were suddenly starting to make sense. If it’s not treason, Ten Gods, please look after Chevenga… the Yeoli Durakis… Then I kicked myself mentally, of course the Ten would know who I meant. They were gods.
I sat in bed, with my papers spread around me, to read a half-dozen pieces from Koren’s history list and made some notes to check and see if there were different pieces to read about the same incidents. I liked it best when there were differing opinions as to causes, but Koren was supposed to be presenting me with a specific way of looking at things. I chewed the end of my pen and spat out the ruby chip I had worried loose, dropped it on my night table before getting out of bed. It was late enough for my raid.
Aside from the distant sounds of slaves down in Diligent Inquiry everything was quiet. The closest guard was just past a statue down towards the Hall and his attention was mostly directed toward the cleanup crew. I’d skated past him twice already before taking my skates off and creeping back to this door.
In the moons since Misahis had been taken away his things had been shuffled towards the back as other things were stored away. Mostly papers, boxes of them. I had a lamp in my own hand so I didn’t need to light the one inside. The cabinets and boxes stretched up into the dark and I fervently hoped I wouldn’t need to pull down one of the sprung-ladders, their heavy silk cords hanging beside each cabinet. The rows of cabinets with their drapings of gray silk reminded me more of spider larders than anything else. I shivered and turned to the open shelves around the walls, nearer the floor.
The servants wouldn’t have buried Misahis’s things that deeply would they? Thinking the Imperator would change his mind quickly? Perhaps they were hoping He would.
I stepped around a space marked out in the floor with a baby’s carriage sitting in it, a lock on the big wheels meant for use with a male nurse in the express lanes. I wondered why the Ministry would confiscate such a thing and what kind of investigation it would entail. Not a murder. I peeked in without disturbing anything. The linens, laces and gold were pristinely white. I took a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. The whole room was crammed full of this kind of stuff, and the stone walls and ceilings and floors were very far away. Any sound I made was muted, smothered fast with no echoes at all.
Beyond the carriage was a stack of wooden boxes as tall as I was, each one stenciled ‘Boy’s left sandals – 100’. Why just the left? That was…I counted… a whole rejin’s worth of useless footwear.
I was wasting time. The bags they’d used to bundle Misahis’s life away were plain cotton. And these shelves were crammed with cotton bags. I blessed the bureaucrat who had carefully wired a paper tag onto each bag denoting its contents. “—house linens, Dorian Riran, fessas – room contents, Imperial felon, Muunas 14, 28--how old IS this stuff?” I was obviously too far in.
Near the door, there were boxes piled in front of the bags, so either someone was trying to hide them or just being lazy. I sneezed a couple of times and my hands were starting to get gray with dust and dirt. “—wrong year, wrong year, wrong month…ah.” I might as well mutter to myself. No one would hear me with all this stuff soaking up any sound. There was not only paper enough to supply a small barbarian nation for a hundred years but the fabrics and the cabinets themselves… my voice would be lucky to travel more than an arm’s length away from me, before being dragged under forever.
Misahis’s stuff was labeled as ‘Haian, fragile, hold until further notice.’ With the correct date. I’d seen how careful they’d been with his things and tried not to flinch at the bits my reaching fingers found. I’d felt the square form of his remedy case from the outside and still got some bamboo splinters in my fingers before I managed to haul it out. I set it on the floor, bundled the bag together and back into its place. The handle on top of the remedy case was broken but I could still pick it up that way.
Before I left I checked to see if the little vials inside were all still in their padded niches. I hardly wanted to go to all this trouble to hand Misahis an empty case, or a case full of broken glass.
The rest of it was easy. Get out and re-lock the door, swap skates for case and zoom by the guard yet again…to his salute…do a spin near the Hall door. When he wasn’t watching anymore, I dropped the key in a good spot for someone to find. And swished away around to snatch up the case from its hiding place and back to my rooms with no one the wiser.
I rinsed my filthy hands and realized I didn’t want to go down to the White Corridor in a night shirt that showed dust, dirt or anything unusual. Thank the Gods it was a nightshirt and nothing more ornate. I didn’t want to tear it off and my day clothes were all too elaborate. I needed help to get in and out of them all.
Slippers… and the case under a robe over my arm. It was kind of obvious but not as bad as walking down there with it openly in my hands.
I had the Mahid guarding White Corridor open it for me, and heard the click of the lock behind me. At night there are four more Mahid in the anteroom and all corridors spring from that point, the dark cells and the White, the hot cells and the wet, and the oubliettes that could not be reached by anyone but the Pharmacist who had those keys.
The oubliettes were also behind hidden doors so that if he died without telling his apprentice how to find and open them the detainees in them would die as well.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray, the –“ the most senior Mahid was interrupted by the clack of an iron key down the dark corridor, and then the door from those cells swung open. 1st Amitzas stepped out of the dark, holding his own case.
“Ah, you were about to tell me that the Imperial Pharmacist was working and I should not disturb him. Of course, of course. Most commendable.” I was sounding more and more like Father, that fake, pasted on joviality. I could see Amitzas’s eyes flicker over the robe I had thrown over my arm, not really concealing the case and my stomach knotted into a solid fist. What would he say about it? “But, he’s obviously finished. Give me a lamp, Mahid,” I said to the senior guard. “And let me in there. I want to see.”
1st Amitzas’s gaze went from the case I held, to the case he held in his own hands. “I trust you will find my work well done, Splinter of the Ineffable Light,” he said neutrally, stepping aside to let me pass, saying nothing about what I carried, and let the Mahid guard lock me in with the Haians.