The Gybir caravans circled around the clearing, centering on the fire and the Arkan scholar sitting next to it. He had his nose in the air as befitted a learned one. His apprentice held the pad of paper, took all the notes and translated from the rough Enchian of the caravanseri to Arkan.
“Are you quite certain that these savages have been answering my questions honestly, Turenas?”
“Oh, yes ser. I’ve translated every word they’ve spoken to me, faithfully.” All around the two Arkans, the Gybiri waved their hands at each other.
“It is possible their language is somewhat like the Yeoli savages and related to their grunting communications. Do their hand-flickerings have anything to do with what they are saying? Ask them that, Turenas.” The scholar looked at the colourfully dressed, be-sashed chief and his head councilor, their red conical headgear canted at a jaunty angle, and the women in layers and layers of brilliantly hued skirts and scarves, serving ceremonial cups of the vile concoction they called tea. The people were dressed as brightly as their caravans were painted. The horses cropped the meadow-grass beyond, somehow not wandering away, though not tied the way Arkan cavalry would have to be.
As the apprentice faithfully, though more politely, inquired about the hand signs, the matriarch softly smacked the side of her own head with her palm, [idiot]before setting it back on the tea tray resting on the folding table. Her husband blinked mildly and scratched his chin, and larynx. [careful].
“Ah, no no no, is notting to do with talk… not Yeola-e like at all!” Chief Kuranis said expansively, his waving hand almost knocking over the cups. [quiet] “Is perhaps twitch, itch? Slap bug?”
“Ser, he respectfully denies that the hand signs have anything to do with their language and suggests that they are perhaps twitches.”
“Is it possible that the whole race is afflicted with a brain disorder?” The scholar managed to look both disdainful and intrigued simultaneously.
[meaningless gestures] The apprentice dutifully translated his scholar’s words. [Arkan slavers are stealing our folk, blaming it on brigands and we’re chatting comfortably with this fool who is ‘studying indigenous and soon to be absorbed cultures?’ Father!] The young man standing off to one side, his features distorted with what looked like rage, twitched and shook as though with palsy.
[Be silent, boy! It is all part of the war.] The chief tugged on his clothing and moustaches in an eerie echo of the boy’s palsy. “Ah, someday we go Haian, find out? We notting notice. We twitch?”
The Arkan scholar snorted when this was translated. “Make careful notes of this phenomenon, Turenas. It will read well in a paper arguing that the lesser races suffer congenital deficiencies and should be carefully controlled by the Empire. Note, the children have the same tic as the mother…” The young girl, obviously a child of the matriarch, standing next to the old woman had just struck herself on the side of the head, like her mother. [idiot]
“Yes, ser.” The apprentice dutifully made notes. “Thank you, Chieftain for your fire and for your salt. We may return to guest in your caravans again.”
“Welcome, are you, all time. Come empty, leave enlightened.” [as learned as my horses] the old man intoned, the traditional leave-taking of his people. “You stay not for food?”
The apprentice coughed and politely declined. “Alas, my esteemed researcher is called away.”
[he doesn’t like burnt horsemeat.] [neither do I] [ick] [shush, children. he sees what he wishes to. it is to our advantage.] [son, you and your men will have their way. the elders command.]
Page 8 – Noted Scholar’s Unfortunate Death
The eminent scholar of indigenous peoples, Noemas Emiskas and his apprentice Turenas Lutzen were apparently the victims of a freak flood near the small town of Eysae. Local nomadic indigenes summoned the appropriate authorities when they came upon the remnants of the scholar’s camp in a washout.
Authorities are searching for the bodies downstream but hold little hope of finding the eminent scholar known for his ground-breaking work in the field of aboriginal customs. Memorial services to be held Dimae 28.
I put the Pages down, then folded them up and tossed them into my waste-basket. I leafed through the three novels my tutor had suggested out of nowhere, re-reading the last paragraph of Aitzas of Divine Mountain before closing the novel slowly. Koren was helping me. All of the novels… There was nothing so obvious as the main plot being about the gathering or hiding of information in a corrupt government, but every one of them had a secondary or tertiary plot strand about that very thing.
I picked up one of my pens and fiddled with it while I thought, then got up and paced. I needed to get someone to tell me the truth about what was going on. There had to be knowledge vanishing into more braziers and fires than I cared to guess at.
I needed to hire a press writer who was confessing his work to the flames, or his editor was. A man not able to have his work seen. In the one novel… a minor character went secretly to the inns and public houses where writers gathered.
Hmmm. I could do that. But.
I was just a boy. I remembered some of the things the Mezem guard—I’d forgotten his name--had said… and I knew by now how incredibly lucky I had been, going out into the city alone, and getting to the Mezem without getting seriously hurt or killed. And boys didn’t go such places… not alone… nor even with friends the same age.
If I went as myself, I would never hear the writers tell the truth. They’d never open up to the Spark of the Sun’s Ray. But if I were in disguise…like in a novel, then maybe. Could I do it in real life? I’d need someone to go with. I bit my lip. I needed a grown man to go with… and if I weren’t his son, I’d have to pretend…
Could I pretend to be that man’s sex boy? A different caste? A fessas? Oh. Um. It was completely shocking to think of… but… I grinned to myself. It would only be pretend. I cleared my throat and sat down next to the fountain. “This one…” It was hard to think of how to speak up to anyone. Hmm. “This one is...” No. Not right yet. “This ‘un ‘s here tah help…” That was better. With a little practice I could get it right, especially if I whispered.
I wouldn’t – couldn’t -- cut my hair but… hmm. I’d need gloves. And I’d need to wear… did I have anything cheap enough to wear? No silk. No… hmm… my plain cottons. Maybe. It was still cotton from the city States river valley… perhaps. No gems at all. A wig. And I’d have to stand differently.
I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it. But… there were old wigs from years of costume collection, mostly from Jitzmitthra… I could even cut one to fessas length.
I even had an idea of whom I would ask… It couldn’t be a Mahid. They’d just run straight to Father.
I’d ask first and if my potential escort balked I considered ordering him to escort me. I might have to anyway, so he could deny complicity under truth drug if I got caught.
I’d have to see if I could maybe do it… I’d have to see how I looked. Then I’d have to see if I could fool my potential conspirator. Then I’d have to ask him. And it would be all to get the name of a writer who I could approach. Someone, or more than one, perhaps, who could get me good information.
I couldn’t do anything about my plan because I had the whole late afternoon and evening full of lessons and presentations. I chafed at everything and spent half of my spiritual lessons rolling balls of paper inside my bottom lip and flipping them at the back of Dekinas Tobeas’s robes, trying to wad the whole back of it with sticky white flecks. Ord and Fil were both sent out for unreasonable laughter, lucky boys.
Late that night, I bundled my possible disguise into my dressing room. I’d taken a pair of gloves from the ‘clean’ pile down in the laundry chambers and a servant’s kilt as well. The wig had been fessas length already thank the Ten. I was awkward knotting my own sash… but managed. My hair… I gathered up my hair into one knot, found that it bulged under the wig… I had my sleeping braid in, from Binshala so I tried wrapping it around my head and that worked. I stuffed the wisps under the edges.
The gloves felt odd and tight and hot. I’d have to pretend I was used to them, every day of my life. I was fessas. Um… Miras Anum, fessas. I turned around and looked at myself in the mirrors.
I looked like Minis Aan, in a fessas wig. I sighed and my shoulders slumped. I’d never make this work. I put a glove up to my face, caught sight of myself out of the corner of my eye and froze. That was it. I had it. A sad me…I let my head come up a little… a little like a turtle, blinking…that was it. “Aye, ser…” no I had to have a broader accent that that. “Ahy, sor.” Softer… more lower city. I thought of the skate-maker’s accent, the boys in the Mezem… like that.
Miras… I was Miras… no the name was wrong. Not Miras. Min… Min… Minakas… Minakas… I was Minakas… That worked. I grinned at myself. “Heya, Minakas A… mmm… Akam… yer ah stinker, ye are.” I realized I needed to get some cosmetics… Father never bothered as far as I knew, so I never bothered either, but most men wore some kind of eyeliner… lash lengtheners… rouge. I’d ask Antras about that.
After my Ten Ten’s practice next day, I apparently sat down to read, so the boys scattered through their rooms, to do their work, write their fathers, play games, or read as well. When everyone was settled nicely I set my book aside to go to the garderobe, then into my day closet.
I had my wig on straight and tight, my gloves on. The servant’s kilt and the belt that gave me access to my own part of the Marble Palace tied as best I could, pointed end right at the edge of the kilt where it was supposed to be… and my gloves. I was beginning to shoot up, enough that I wasn’t as fat as I had been even two years ago.
Head tucked more into my shoulders, eyes down, I grabbed the laundry basket and put it on my hip. Ouch. I was glad it was half-empty. I walked out as if I had been sent to fetch it.
I trotted down to the laundry hall and stopped a moment. I’d been there at night where only the night slaves kept the biggest hot boilers going and I’d not been anywhere near them.
The whole room was filled with billows of steam, streaming to the vents, drawn by massive fans humming in their slots in the ceiling. The boilers hissed as a slave opened a tap to refill a bleaching cauldron at the head of a whole row, and suddenly half the room was invisible as a cloud filled it.
Every cauldron was full, every one had two or three slaves and servants attending it. The noise was enough to make me flinch. Another boy bumped into me from behind, his laundry basket loaded enough to make it bulge. “Hey, don’t stop, don’t stop yeh fool! Keep goin’”
I took a deep breath, about to yell at him and then realized, ducked my head and kept going. I knew where I was supposed to put it so trotted over to it and dumped my basket quick before anyone realized my basket was half-empty. There was an obvious exit, a boy just leaving through it. I went back to my rooms without anyone looking at me twice.
Inside I was giggling. I put the basket back into the closet and went back out to carry books back and forth between the library and my rooms to test if anyone recognized me at all. It was like being invisible. I was kneeling at the bookcase when Koren came looking for me because I wasn’t at lessons. Again. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray?”
“The exalted was just here, Tutor Koren. I’m sure he isn’t far, we’ll find him and bring him to the schoolroom.” I just kept pulling books from my stack and placing them in the shelf as if that was what I’d been ordered to do. They looked around the suite for me, Definas walked right by me to see if I’d left a note on my desk mentioning where I’d gone.
When they’d all scattered to spread their search wider, I darted into the closet, pulled everything off and tucked it in the back of a drawer full of my old baby clothes. It took a moment to pull on a robe and call for servants to dress me. Since my companions had apparently dutifully gone off to lessons and I was late.
I could do it. It could work.