It was only a few eight-days away from Ilesias’s second birthday and I had bought him a white Great Hound puppy almost the same size he was, a pet snow tiger and a miniature winged shoulder lizard striped like a rainbow. Of course all the animals were very carefully trained and had their handlers and keepers. I thought he might like those, and the ‘Big machine’ I had an artist build in the Marble Palace.
It started with a slide that would land Ilesias in a kind of cushioned bucket that would swing up and over and set the bucket into a carousel that would go around ten times before tipping up and take him up to the top where he could get out of the seat at the top of another slide, but this one was like a corkscrew that he could get off of on a first floor or ride all the way around and around to the floor below. Next year I’d have other pieces added on to make it more interesting. Maybe more every year.
Or something. But I’d thrown my new idea at my companions and they thought it was funny. The skate maker didn’t but had come up with something, without even letting it show on his face that he thought I was crazy.
I had a brand new house donkey... a yearling... smart, beautiful... blue eye’d even... and we were in a ballroom with the doors locked. We’d put the skates on the donkey and he’d gone completely rigid when he’d put the odd new shoes down, locking his legs as if he were a wooden toy.
I had the lead rope, pulling everyone along in a knot of laughter. Fil, on the near hind leg of the donkey, pushing, giggled so hard he fell right off his skates. Tob, on the off side, brayed and we all collapsed, except the donkey. “I have to be able to lead this ass!” I giggled, sitting on my rear, looking up at the aghast face of the animal. Tob had fallen where he’d been pushing, sprawled on his stomach, arms outstretched.
“Surely he can learn rather than being towed along like he’s an express cart!” The donkey, standing stiff on his skates finally moved slightly. With the most disgusted look on its face it cocked its tail and broke its house training with a splat and hit Tob in the head.
“Ewww! He shenned on me! Ewww! Get a slave in here! Ewwww!”
“Ugh, Tob! He’s really made you a shen-head!”
“Hahahahahahaha! Oh Ten!” Silasas was beside himself, his gloves clamped hard to his sides as if to keep his ribs together. Tobeas, his mouth set in a rictus of shocked revulsion, pulled himself up and, trailing bits of donkey shen skated to the garderobe and washroom doors. He didn’t say a word because he’d have to open his mouth.
It took a while for all of us to stop laughing, and by the time the slave had come and gone with buckets and rags Tob was back, completely scrubbed, completely changed, his scalp showing red through his tight scraped back hair. “So, has Brother Ass, learned anything yet?”
“Hmm. Can we get some of the pressed grain cakes from the kitchen? Honey or syrup cakes. I’ll bet he’d like that, our horses are crazy for them.” Ordas said. His Father and Uncles supplied the heavy destriers for the Tenth Sunborn Superlative.
“Go get some, Ord,” I said. “Let’s see if we can get him happier.”
“That way he won’t shen all over us,” Tob said sourly and set us all off again while Ord skated down to get some honey cakes.
We waved pieces of them under the elegantly tilted, high turned, aitzas-like nose, and the donkey deigned to unbend enough to stretch his neck to take a piece. Once he took one he was inclined to view us and our antics with more charity.
I kept offering pieces further and further away and he shook his ears at me, and stamped a skated hoof. That moved him and you could see him think about it. It looked like we might be able to get somewhere before Ilesias’s birthday. “We’ll need to keep playing with him until he realizes what we want him to do.”
“As the Spark wishes.” Tom said.
Definas snorted. “Of course! Only the Spark of the Sun’s Ray would think of putting a donkey on skates for his little brother. Wait till the baby’s old enough to follow you around everywhere and ask you a million questions.”
I thought I’d like that but didn’t say anything. “Let’s keep trying with Brother’s Ass.” And of course someone made a farting noise.
I respectfully requested of Father that I be the one honoured to lead Ilesias’s donkey in his second birthday processional, the rite that was traditional for the first five birthdays, of a Coronet’s life. “Excellent! Excellent request my minimal! Very brotherly. Very well thought out. Of course you may!”
So when I showed up at the Steel Gate stairs, on my skates, leading a white, skating donkey, no one expected it and the crowd, at first, didn’t believe it. Then people didn’t know how to react. Ilesias totally ignored the mixed uproar, ignored Kaita’s grabbing hands and jumped, hopped and slid down the steps on his bum, completely destroying the back of his fancy birthday robe, and grabbed onto the donkey’s saddle, jumping up and down. “Mine? Mine? My donkey? ‘s name, Minis? ‘s name?”
“He’s one of my birthday presents to you, Coronet Regal! And you get to give him a name.”
“Not Regal, I’m Ilesias! Up! Up please?” He’d begun copying me and saying please and thank you. I think his nurse was encouraging him quietly, not that I ever heard. “Want up NOW!”
“We’ll have to go slowly, brother... hmmm...” His Mahid were as quick as mine. There were already two of his rolling up on their skates.
I caught a glimpse of Father up on the throne on the Presentation balcony and for a moment I wondered at the sad, sour face he made, looking at us. It made me chill all the way up and down my spine.
There had never been any sign that I had ever seen of uncles. I had never heard of Father’s brothers. I think I knew where I’d find them and I realized I should, perhaps, see if I could, even if I didn’t want to. He Whose Whim Was the Will of the World had decreed that He was an only child and always had been.
I fiddled with the sapphires on my short robe but didn’t pull on them and with a deep breath and a tug on the lead rope “—Hup!” set off on a slow, stately skate around the perimeter of Presentation Square. The rest of Ilesias’s household would follow on foot. This baby processional would show to the people that there were Heirs to the Sun, that he was healthy and cherished. I could barely remember the last of my birthday processionals. I had cried I recalled, because I had wanted an elephant to ride instead of a pony.
The crowd had finally figured out that they could laugh at the spectacle of a skating ass without offending either the ass’s rider, or the ass's guide, so there was a lot more spontaneous joy for this processional, especially when the donkey tried to snatch the flowers in the hands of the children along the route and eat them. People would have thrown them before us, but refrained to keep from fouling our skates and instead I let the donkey browse here and there and traded copper chains with the children for their bouquets of donkey fodder. Ilesias saw and wanted to throw copper chains too, so I gave him a wreath of them. All in all it was a very happy processional.
I skated us through the mists of the Fire Fountains, back and forth across that park, waiting for the rest of Ilesias’s household to catch up to us so we could finish the final leg of the journey back to Father. I could see Him, waiting, a golden blot sitting on the balcony and I could just feel my stomach sink. I should not have sprung this on Him. But I refused to cut this short, and I could hope... not pray... just hope that He would find it as funny as I thought it was.
I turned my back on the forward road that led back to Father and skated backwards, looking at Ilesias’s ecstatic face. His robe, where he’d ruined the silk across his bottom wasn’t visible and he had both reins in his chubby little hands, drumming on the donkey’s sides with his heels. The ass had his ears back but was happy enough because I had some of the honey cakes in my sleeve pocket and the donkey didn’t mind lint all over them.
Ilesias was lucky that it wasn’t raining and cold this close to the solstice. It was sunny and surprisingly warm. Warm enough that the Fire Fountain mists were welcome. The fog blew between Ilesias and our entourage and the Marble Palace, making my little brother say “We gone away, Minis!”
“Only for a moment, little brother.”
“Minis... let’s go ‘way! Lets go, go go! Minis, can we?”
“No, Ilesias, we can’t. I’m sorry. If we went away now you’d miss the rest of the presents for your birthday... and your cake.” It was about this time the rest of the household came panting up on foot, trying to hurry without looking like they were hurrying, and the mists blew away toward the Lion’s Bridge leaving us a perfect view across the square. Father had gone in. The Presentation Balcony was empty.