Inthilin had sent the first shipment of wines along with something odd and experimental, a blended wine treated with both ice and fire, so it was incredibly strong but didn’t taste all that potent. Ancherao hadn’t known about it but told me it was someone’s idea of getting a raw wine prepared for drinking without having to leave it cellar’d for a dozen years or more first.
My new friend, Erelas, a man who worked alongside Antras, and was trusted by him, poured me a normal white-wine glass full after he had tasted from the sipping dish. He hadn’t fallen over so he could pour me a glass. I thanked him and told him to leave the bottle.
It was a deep gold and red and the perfume of it was like fruit, fanilas and there was the scent of hazelnuts in it as well, the body of it both thick and full and sweeter than I liked but... I sipped it again. Very, very smooth. It was truly still too hot to be drinking this sort of wine... they had no name for it yet... but I had to try it. They would make a fortune with it, whatever they called it.
It was intense enough that I rolled it carefully over my tongue, automatically now, checking for the acrid bite of poisons. Spiced, sweet, smooth, with no hint of bitterness, or acid at all. For something only a few months old it was astonishing. I’d ask them to put some away in an oak barrel for some time to see what happened. If it was so drinkable now, what would it be like aged?
I closed my eyes, hunting for any hint of the additives and found nothing. Lovely. I’d have another few sips before going back to my writing.
By the time I’d finished half the glass, I’d put my pen down, unable to follow my sacred argument for Tobeas and was giggling at nothing. I hadn’t noticed I was getting drunk until I tried to stand up quickly to visit the garderobe and found my limbs a lot heavier than I expected.
“Hey, C...co..companions...” I got the hiccups as well as the giggles, calling out. They all came in. “Here... taste this stuff.” I handed Oras the cup I’d been drinking from and they all sipped and passed it to the next boy.
“What is it, Spark?” Oras asked me as he handed me back the empty glass. “I... donno... um... It doesn’t have a name yet... from my new estate. ...have to think of a name...” I wanted them to feel this good too... so I called for more glasses and another bottle and we went into the fountain room to drink it.
The second bottle was as free of additives as the first, and just as smooth. It seemed to vanish in the haze of lovely feelings and layers of tastes. There was a third bottle on the desk that Erelas tasted too, though I tried to drink what I had slowly. It wasn’t wine-glass sized drink... more like Saekrberk, or however the Brahvnikians pronounced it. More smooth than nakiti, complex.
I poured a thimbleful over shaved ice and everyone had to try it. We switched glasses to little ones but it didn’t help much.
Definas had a good voice and when he could quit laughing, he sang... We all did. “Hey... why don’t we p...play, hid’n seek?” I lay on the floor looking up my companion’s noses and this seemed a brilliant idea to me.
“I wanna get my M... mahid involved... stinkers...” I snorted and laughed again, though my companions sobered a bit. “Get ‘em loosened up... MAKE ‘em have fun for once...”
“Why don’t we skate, first... go play faib?” That was Oras. He’d gotten a lot better in the time that Ilian and his cohort had been gone.
“S...sounds good... Let’s do it...” I let myself be diverted.
The servants weren’t drunk so they didn’t have a problem putting our skates on and we rolled down the Marble Palace hallways, leaning on each other, windmilling our arms wildly as if we were going to fall, staggering over to drape ourselves on statues and make rude or silly comments. The lot of us climbed onto the High Staircase banister, sitting in one long caterpillar, our skates dangling, and slid all the way down the huge curve to the lower floor, tumbled into a pile of drunken boys at the bottom.
It was a miracle we didn’t all just kill ourselves overbalancing and falling off the wrong side and cracking our heads open. We sorted ourselves out with a lot of trying to pick each other up and falling down again, slinging someone ahead and trying to get ourselves going on his momentum.
We finally got moving once Definas put his hands on my butt and Tobeas took my hands. I was bent over at the waist struggling to stay standing and Def flailed with his feet and Tob got us both moving, until I started making machine noises and they laughed so hard all three of us fell down.
At the faib floor we took a disc and played two on two for a bit, spending most of our time skidding off the walls on our stomachs or our butts. When I wanted to sit and watch instead of play, I had the slaves pull me up with one of the polishing nets... the way they’d pull up an injured player who couldn’t get out by himself.
I thrust my arms out of the net and made roaring noises like I was a captured lion and my companions fell in with the play, shouting me up over the edge.
I sat for a while in my chair and watched them... and had a little more of the new wine. I had to come up with some kind of name for it... since everyone would be thinking it was coming from MinisaniaM... inisanian bat pee... I thought. No that would be too rude, besides it tasted good. How about Secrets and Lies? It was deceptive. It needed a good name for such a lying, lying wine.
I waved the companions to continue playing and skated off on my own, taking the last finger-tip depth of wine, in the bottom of the bottle, with me.
I skated around a while more before having another sip... bumped down to the Mahid level and rousted a dozen of their children away from their torture lessons. I wanted to play hide and seek so I told them, grandly of course, that I wanted them to have fun too and they were going to play with me.
The oldest... I don’t remember his name, went somewhere and I made the others count. “To a hundred, mind... and you’re Mahid. You’re not allowed to cheat.” I wagged my finger at them and took off.
I had an idea.
On the Marble Palace roof, the slate tiles aren’t smooth enough to skate, so I pulled them off and went bare-footed -- less risque than bare handed. The guards were all on the perimeter and at the bottom and top of the stairs. They hadn’t seen the need to put a man on the roof, at the door, since the cistern guards could see the whole flat area from their rounds.
Can’t leave the cistern unguarded. There’s an old, old poison people once used to get one of my ancestors, and because it is soaked through the skin they killed a dozen other people in the Marble Palace along with Teshas, the Unlucky. The cisterns and water feeds for the Palace are all guarded now, by tradition.
I giggled again and left my skates by the door... They’d figure it out soon. I up-ended the bottle and drained the last of the new wine, set the bottle next to my skates and trotted over to the ancient tower.
It had been for some purpose at one time, that no one could remember, so rather than take it down, Imperators began embellishing the spidery metal spire. Scholars argued that it had some function like that of the lighting tower that had failed so specatularly hundreds of years ago and that it needed to be a kind of steel.
But the wrist-thick bars making up the triangles of tower were all gilded now. Festooned with gold and Tiiriananen era cherubs, it was pretty easy to climb. The eagle on the top of it was glass and gold and brass and big enough for me to sit on, draping my legs on either side of its neck. I’d wait for them and see how long it took them to find me.
The view from here was wonderful. I looked back and up, over my shoulder at the one talon of the gold eagle on the cliff, then around and down and down and down to the Flagpole over the Presentation balcony, the Imperial Aan banner hanging limp in the heat. Down to the Presentation plaza.
I’d never been this high to look down on the fountains from this angle. I was a little dizzy and lay down along the eagle’s neck, clutching it around with one arm. That was better. Still a little slippery though. I sat up and pulled off every bangle and button on my shirt, flinging them one at a time out into the Presentation square, watching people look startled, or look straight up, make the prayer sign. Not many people spotted me on the eagle. Ha, a few knelt down to pray. I hit one kid in the head with one and he both danced and prayed.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray. We have found you. You will come down.”
It was Meras instead of the Mahid kids. Shen. I’d wanted the kids to find me. Meras?
“Come down. Now.”
“Spark, come down.”
“Fik--hic you, Meras!” I shouted down at him. I don’t think he raised his voice but it felt like I was shouting down a tunnel.
“You have to come down eventually, Chip of the Effulgent Light.”
“Hic, hic, hic... yeah! I do... You’re just hoping I don’t c..co...come down the wrong way or too fast, you big, fat pussy cat. Aren’t you just a cuddly, wuddly, big softy pussy cat?” I started laughing, thinking of Meras as a cat with the smell of dog in its face.
“Tathanas, Sidis, fetch him down.” The two Mahid began climbing up the tower and I wondered how they were going to actually reach me if I didn’t want to get reached? I wiggled around so the Eagle’s head was under my stomach, my legs dangling, as they got near the top. I had both my arms wrapped around the statue’s neck and if the glass cracked I’d fall to my death. They both froze.
I started to sing as best I could with the eagle’s head in my gut. “... lay down yourself, you lovely boy, let me take those gloves away...” It was a very rude drinking song I’d overheard, listening to servants.
“Spark!” Was that real tension in Meras’s voice? I scrambled up again and stood on the eagle’s back but then the two Mahid trying to snag me down inched closer. I put my foot down and slid off the eagle’s back, onto its outstretched talon. I wiggled my hips as though I were losing my balance. He couldn’t see I had hold of the neck feathers.
“Meras, Fairest, Meras, Tear-ass.” There were other Mahid down there. I didn’t care. They all looked the same. White faces against dark uniforms looking up at me. The afternoon was waning so I was still up in bright bright light while they were already almost in shadows... the long shadows from the front turrets.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray. I will inform your Father of this behaviour.”
I pulled my pants down and showed him my bare backside, then, since I had it out, decided to piss on them all.
“So? Don’t threaten, Meras.” I blew him a raspberry through my lips, though not as wet as what I’d just showered them with. “You need to mind your manners. Ask me politely and I might come down.”
I put my hands down and caught the metal garland the eagle held in its beak and hung from my hands for a bit. Even the most hardened of Mahid will apparently show something because I heard someone send a prayer to Muunas. Probably thinking of what Father would do to them if I fell and got turned into redsauce on the slate roof. I could see the two Mahid below me, eyes locked on me though they could do nothing if I fell. They were still out of reach.
“I can smell the alcohol burning as you try and think this out, Meras Tear-ass. It’s simple, ask me nicely.”
I put my feet back on the talon and looked down just in time to see the fleeting look of terrified frustration on his face. Minis, you have to be nice to everyone. Chevenga’s voice in my memory.
No I don’t. I answered the phantom voice in my head. It’s no use. I’m like Father, unloved and unloving. A raping, murderous son of a dog-mother, doomed to Hayel. I didn’t expect any kind of answer but one came up anyway.
You can’t know that. That was exactly what he’d say. Why did I have to have a sensible voice in my head that sounded like him?
“Splinter of the Divine Light, this one abjectly begs you to come down.” Meras’s dead voice held the sound of grinding glass shards as he, as a good Mahid, did a rejin more than what I asked. I ask him to be polite and he goes abject. No wonder Chevenga thought we were all sane as a triple nutcake with extra fruits.
“Of course, Meras. You only had to ask nicely.” I climbed down slowly enough not to scare anyone, escorted down by the two men who’d been sent up to get me and just as I got to the Senior Mahid, felt the rush of too much wine, and vomited at and all over his feet.
He didn’t move but one of his other Mahid swung me up into a cradle hold carry, which was good because the roof was swinging and tilting around all over the place. “Thank you, Meras,” I managed to say before I went limp on him and started to snore. At least I think I snored because I woke myself up several times during the night.
I found the name for that wine, though. “Silken Gloves”, though unofficially people call it “Stone Fist, or Mahid Fist” for what it does to you next morning.