It was another late night. This time I came to the White Corridor with a kitchen slave and service cart in tow. 1st Amitzas was nowhere in sight
The Mahid in the guard room didn’t know what to do at first, but I straightened them out. “My late night meal has already been tasted, Mahid, you needn’t. I require a chair placed into the dark corridor so I may sit at leisure.”
As usual the sound of the horrid clack of keys echoed as he unlocked the corridor. I had come down once before, around this same time. No one had questioned me, not even 1st Amitzas. I spoke to all of them, found out that what Piatsri needed was protein but he normally got it from rice and another plant… a kind of bean rather than from animal flesh. He told me that time he would sometimes eat fish. That time I’d found out that Merchoser was mostly healed up and able to get on his feet more easily.
That visit I’d hugged Misahis and ended up sitting beside Alchaen’s cell and talking to him, mostly, and found Megidan up against her bars, just listening to me as well, before I left. I hoped I could help, just talking.
This time I came in with a lot more noise. In my head I apologized for waking them, but in the dark cells there was no time, no outside. I was nasty and ordered the slave around and fussed about setting up the meal cart so I could serve myself. I flung myself into the chair the Mahid brought me leapt up, complaining, and sent him for a different one.
The Haian eyes watched, terrified, from the backs of all the cells, silent as they watched the little play I set out. “Arrogant princeling descends onto helpless victims”. It was all for the Mahid’s eyes of course and for their reports should anyone ask. But since this was my third visit down here it was unlikely that anyone would question my doing it.
The first chair was removed, the second chair brought in, the cart adjusted to my finicky approval, a cup of kaf and a glass of wine poured. I leaned back as arrogantly as I know how, fiddling with the stem of my glass , waiting till the Mahid and the slave leave. The echoes of the keys faded, leaving only the sigh of the ventilation system and quiet breathing.
“I didn’t know what Amitzas was feeding you all… can I offer you food?” My voice echoed a little.
“Thank you, Minis,” Merchoser said. “What did you bring us?”
Kaninden covered her nose and mouth against the aroma of the steak I’d brought. I put the cover back on that plate. “Sorry, Kaninden. They’d expect me to bring red meat in here under your noses. I’ve brought some baked fish, roasted vegetables… and beans sautéed in vegetable broth. Nothing animal in it. Um… bread for those of you who eat grains… fried corn meal slices… no cheese but I brought the cheese if you want.”
“Thank you, Minis,” Piatrsi said. “You said baked fish? I would be grateful for that.”
It took me a little while to pass bowls and plates to everyone who could take them. “I brought fruit too and juice to drink.” A murmur of acknowledgement, from full mouths.
I’d brought fruit cut into pieces as well. The chef had made it very decorative, thinking it would be for me. I took the plate and set it outside Megidan’s cell, backing away to not frighten her and I was happy to see she was a little better. She actually looked me in the eyes for a few moments. “It will be all right, Megidan. Somehow.”
Then I went to sit down outside Alchaen’s cell. He lay, shifted from the last time, staring at the ceiling, just blinking. I couldn’t stand to see him like this. I’d spent most of my time, last time, with him, just talking. I knew he’d healed Chevenga of this death-in-life, so it was possible. I was no healer but I couldn’t just leave him alone inside his own skull. “Alchaen. It’s Minis. You know you’re allowed to stir? You are allowed to move? I won’t hurt you if you move. It’s all right. I have some fruit for you if you can eat. You have to eat. You need the nourishment.”
I repeated that again and thought I saw his chest shift as if he were actually letting himself take a deeper breath. “It’s all right, Alchaen. You can look, you are allowed to move.”
He blinked, his eyelids quivered and blinked again, more rapidly than before. Then without his head moving in the slightest, his eyes moved to look at me. That was all, but I was holding my breath. “That’s right. That’s good, Alchaen. If it’s too much you don’t need to do any more than that.” I was sure he was focusing on me. I could see he was. I was sure. “Would you like peach slices? If you would like peach… open your mouth. You shouldn’t choke on peaches.”
His mouth popped open and I reached to feed him a peach slice. He chewed and swallowed but his mouth didn’t open for a second slice. “If you want a peach slice, you need to open your mouth, Alchaen.” It didn’t open, but his eyes moved to follow my face. “You’ve had enough with the one? It’s okay. I didn’t know what you’d like, and thought that smaller berries would be a choking hazard. That’s what the contraband Haian books I have say. I’m reading those books when I can. They’re just Enchian translations but still…” I babbled, admittedly, happy that he was looking.
“Minis? Could you come? You’re doing him good by talking to him, lad.” That was Misahis. I went down to him, carefully skirting Megidan’s cell to not startle her. Half of the fruit plate was empty I was glad to see.
“Tell me what has been happening in your life, Minis.”
“I’m studying, Misahis. Trying to be with my little brother. I don’t want to be near Father, but I have to be.” I took his bowl back through the bars. “Can I get you anything else, Misahis?”
He looked at me solemly. Even in a dungeon, even in the dimness of my one lamp, he could see through me. “Minis. Let me give you some remedies.”
“Misahis! No, you shouldn’t be looking after me! Not here, not—“
Kaninden called down, interrupting. “If not here then where? We’re healers, even if we’re stuck here, lad. Take it.”
I sat and looked at him and down the corridor at them all, the ones who could look through their cell doors, their compassionate faces and I blinked back tears, took a deep breath. “You want to help me? You want to help heal me? When the best I can do for you is bring some extra food and a light for a while? That’s not right! I’d be taking advantage of you. How can you? How can you?”
Merchoser answered, before Misahis could get the words out. “If we can be and do what we’ve dedicated our lives to, even here, then that is healing to us, Minis. In the depth of despair, to be healers saves us.”
“He is correct, Minis.” That was Misahis. He reached through the bars and laid his hand on my wrist, comforting. I took another deep breath.
“I’ll take the remedies, thank you Misahis, but I don’t know if I can bear much more than that. I keep wanting to help you, not come down because I need you.”
“It is all a help, Minis,” Kaninden said. “It’s contact with someone. If we need to think of you as a patient, then we feel stronger.”
“You feel stronger when you help someone, don’t you?” Misahis said.
I let out a helpless giggle. “You feel stronger? Oh, my. That’s so dark but it’s so funny… it’s so crazy.”
In his Haian/Brahvnikian accent I could hear Piatrsi’s wry tone more strongly than in the pure Haian when he said, “We need all the control we can get, Minis.”
I nodded. “Well, thank you for trying to seize control and heal me, then.” I got a snort of laughter out of one of them, I wasn’t sure which one. “I should pack up and get back upstairs. I’ll try to come down again. 1st Amitzas hasn’t tried to stop me since the first time… even when he saw I had your case, Misahis. He and I aren’t talking to each other about this. What we don’t see, I guess, neither of us has to report on. Either that or both of us have chosen to lie by omission.”
No one spoke to that, letting their silences fill up the space. I was truly starting to believe that 1st Amitzas was not fulfilling the letter of the law when obeying Father, but I was certainly not going to say anything to anyone about it.
I gathered up dirty plates from the cells and hid them back under the cart. “Good night everyone. Your Spirit of Life hold you.” I got their murmur of blessing back before I sauntered to the door, putting on my petulant mask and began kicking it, nearly kicking the Mahid who opened it for me in the shins.
“Summon a slave for that. I’ve decided I want to eat my snack in my rooms.” Binshala would take it away later and not comment on it, that I had apparently not eaten at all, since I didn’t feel like beefsteak now.
Go… um… forzak it, I wanted to feel the power of being able to help someone. Them particularly. I want to feel anything but helpless in the face of damnation.