The fessas and okas, at least some of them, from the camp were pouring into the city, hoping to hide from the coming battle. The Sereniteers and guard and Mahid who would have stopped them, would have policed the gate, were gone, ordered away either to the last rag-tag rejins or to the Marble Palace.
I sat back against the pillows, looking at Kyriala who sat with her face covered by her gloved hands. The Chevenga slave lay naked at my feet pretending to be a cushion or something else inanimate to not draw my attention.
The Imperial Book was on my lap, the weight of it much bigger than its mere physical presence. The sword was at my left, next to my leg. I could see vague shapes through the cloth of gold curtains but I couldn’t open them to see the city one last time.
I would set them free. Chevenga’s words drifted through my mind. Father was dead. No matter what He’d said. I closed my eyes and prayed to Selinae for the city. Muunas I didn’t dare approach, but perhaps Selinae would forgive me for my blasphemous prayers for Arko. The Gods had chosen to replace a bad Imperator, with a foreigner. We had allowed Father to drag us over a cliff, we had not recognized evil and had not revolted in the God’s name. So, the Aan line, that had ruled here for almost a thousand years, was done.
We were done, and we had taken the entire Empire with us. Mother, be gentle with the innocents. Be merciful. If I may pray that Your Divine Husband be turned aside from His wrath. Be with Chevenga, Your chosen Son. Mother forgive us for following a corrupt and failed Imperator. Forgive me for not having risen against my father. Mother, help the innocents, help the new Imperator.
Kyriala sniffed before sitting up and presenting me with a calm face. What was happening behind her porcelain features? I looked away from her and tried to see through the curtains as the chair tilted to the rising road up to the Main Gate. All I could see around me was the vaguely moving form of the Mahid mounted all around me. I... didn’t want to leave. I realized, I had hoped to finish it all by giving myself over to Chevenga. Over the past weeks, the way I’d been dreaming, I’d come to believe that was what the Gods wanted. I’d hoped it would finish it.
So of course Kurkas Joras Amitzas Boras Aan, Shining Eye of Muunas, Glorious Ray, Unending Light in the Mind of God, my father, may he smother in Hayel, had to send me away to save me from the coming Sack of the City, will I, nil I.
My Mahid, led by 2nd Amitzas, pushed hard that day, hardly stopping to change horses, letting us relieve ourselves, letting the litter slaves rest though there was another relay of them, eight and eight. The women rode as hard, led by ropes tied to their husband’s saddles to keep up. Their un-naturally still faces showed no sign of strain though they were being forced to do something they had never been required to do before.
We had no carts to slow us down. Everything was on horses. But they knew I had not learned to ride that well and Kyriala would never have been near one, delicate flower that she was, so we were all held to the pace of the litter bearers. Even Binshala and Ailadas were on horseback, each with a packhorse.
It was late into the night and Kyriala and I lay in a half daze rocking to the staggering swing of the litter when one of the bearers stumbled, fell and dropped us tumbling on the road, tangled in the curtains. I heard wood break as we fell and as I fought my way out I found myself standing on an Imperial road somewhere northwest of the City, wind cutting through my silks.
Kyriala shrieked as the chair went down and when she was helped free, held one of her arms awkwardly. Then she stood and cried terrified silent tears. In the dark the Mahid were dreadful. All you could see of them in their uniform onyxine was their pale faces, a flash of hair in the moonlight, and they were all but silent.
The Chevenga slave made no sound as he crawled out of tumble of cushions and curtains and crouched at my heels. I hated that. I wanted to kick him away from me. He was horrible to my eyes, looking like Chevenga like that, and not being him. But it wasn’t his fault. I looked away, ignoring him, as the best compromise.
The other bearers had stopped, crouched down, panting. Ilesias complained sleepily and Kaita shushed him, soothing him. The chair bearers were no more spent than the horses who also hung their heads. Second Amitzas stood next to me, considering. Then he walked over to the bearer who had fallen, lifted his head up by the hair. He wasn’t checking to see if the slave was injured, just giving himself a clean shot at the throat cut.
He dropped the carrion he’d created and came back wiping his knife. “Strip him. Let the barbarians think him a victim of bandits.” I could sense his fish-belly gaze traveling over the rest of the slaves. Another Mahid, First Boras, checked the litter as it was righted and said. “The carry-pole is broken.”
“Break up the pole and hide it. Bury it preferably. The slave on that corner will make do.” They saw to Kyriala’s arm while that was done, binding it tightly into place across her chest so it not move. They were not sure it was broken but it would have to wait until we reached sanctuary. There was no Haian healer with us because Father wouldn’t give up his personal, chained man. Unfortunately for Kyriala it would be only the Mahid medic and my nurse to see to her health.
They moved the spare bearer into place and we climbed into the litter again, leaving no marks on the hard road surface except for the pool of blood puddled around the naked corpse in the road.
In the dark, in the cold I couldn’t help wondering what was happening in the city, couldn’t help thinking of Chevenga. I couldn’t think of that, it would stop me; turn my heart into coal in my chest. I had to hold to the fact that he didn’t remember, as he’d written. Perhaps someday I would be able to set that right, if I were strong enough. Just not right now. Now I had to be Heir and Heir in Hiding, clutching my old friendship with the Yeoli to my chest like a child’s toy. It would be all I had against what darkness might come, what darkness I’d find inside me.
We were slower after the litter was broken, and Amitzas turned us onto a southward road for a time until we came to rolling hills covered in heavy trees, too hard for manicured fields, but perhaps pasture. I couldn’t sleep since the bearer who had the broken corner ran practically under me and I could hear him struggling to breathe and keep up despite the too-short pole end he struggled with. I could not say anything to the man. He was a man despite being a slave. The boy at my feet was a helpless slave. Chevenga had taught me that, Ancherao had taught me that. Even Ilesias the Great had written that in ‘Admonishments’.
Yet I could do nothing for the slave but try to put my weight on the good side of the litter. I thought I knew what Amitzas was planning anyway. A Mahid thing. I knew that Amitzas was looking for something.
He found it around dawn, a crumbling cliff edge and down aways from the long hill below, a crossroads. He called a halt and they took the slaves to the edge of the cliff and slew them. He probably wanted to fling them off the edge alive but wasn’t able to indulge himself so had their throats cut first in the name of speed and silence.
The litter pillows and curtains were bundled onto a packhorse and both litters were broken and thrown down onto the dead slaves. They loosened the cliff face and pried a small rockslide down on their grave. As I said Amitzas was lucky in his choice of place that they could do this.
He put me up on his horse in front of him and Kyriala before his own wife, Inensa. Kaita and Ilesias were put on another horse and we were off again, this time turning north. An eight of Mahid took other roads to muddle the trail. They caught up with us somehow, later.
I hadn’t said anything this whole time, content to hold my silence. I had seen it coming, though I had no clue that this frantic flight would come. In fact I was shocked that – He… Father -- had woken up enough to even think of this. I couldn’t think of the man as my Father any longer and would have to think of him as less than divine, certainly.
All my planning of how and where to hide went as if it were flung off the Rim. It was all behind me. The army might even be in the City even now. I could have been wrong in my estimations of how close Chevenga’s army was. It was all out of my hands.
With Antras and Erelas, Tazen and Sinimas and Narbutas, I had made the first, tentative steps toward real truth and it was all abluted by both the Alliance army’s final approach and this wild, ugly flight into the wilderness. I sat on the rocking, nauseating, heaving back of this beast, clamped hard against 2nd Amitzas’s chest by an equally hard arm, smelling his rank sweat and drying spots of blood unseen on the black pants along with the sweetish grass smell of the horse. I couldn’t help shivering in the cold, even though they had handed me a blanket to wrap in before he took me up. It was like being clutched by a man made out of clay or stone. It felt as though he sucked my heart’s warmth right out of me.