Next morning at dawn, the boy slipped out of the bed and went to get water to wash me. I hurt so badly all over my body that I shook and each tremor hurt as well. I felt sick and my head hurt vilely enough that I couldn’t raise it off the pillow. Amitzas came in behind the boy, along with the medic who examined me.
“He needs the Imperial additives,” he said dryly. “A slightly lesser dose than he is used to and we will wean him from them. Until his body clears them out his joints will be aching and you cannot push the training. It will kill him if you do.”
Amitzas stood a moment, disgust at my weakness radiating off him. “So, he needs light training today?”
“Yes, First.” That’s right… 2nd Amitzas would have the title of First of the Mahid… so he was now First 2nd Amitzas. I had to smile at the silliness.
“Wipe the smile off, boy. When you finish breakfast you will report to Boras, outside. You will need to learn to ride – well this time.”
I managed to eat that morning and then got out and was put on one of the horses. Aside from hurting in a whole different way next day, it was almost enjoyable. I didn’t fall off more than three or four times, but by the time the day was done I could at least cling on and begin to direct the thing as I wished. Also, the instructor could not reach me with a corrector without making the horse shy. It was an entirely different kind of riding than what I had been taught before. This time I was in a war-saddle, rather than a flat riding pad and the horse was heavier than I was used to, being closer to a heavy cavalry horse than a lighter, fleeter palfrey.
The horses were all from the Mahid stables, the peculiar dark gray/black, the almost purplish sheen to their coats that made them both a match for the onxyine uniforms and hardest to see in the shadows under the trees. Not like my white or gold horses. The horse 2nd Amitzas assigned to me was one that he’d led in his string.
It rolled its eye at me and I had to dodge it snapping at me. “If the horse attempts this once more, Spark of the Luminous Light, make a fist and slam it on the nose.” Of course. Even the Mahid horses were vicious.
Binshala and Kaita sat on the side of the field with Ilesias. He waved at me with both hands and I smiled at him when I could. My hands were full so I couldn’t wave back. If I could teach a shennen house-cleaner’s donkey to skate I could make this iron-mouthed brute obey me. One of the younger Mahid kept a sky-watch with far-lookers to his eyes, keeping watch for the barbarian’s flying machines.
I didn’t have any appetite that evening.
“Chip of the Radiant Light. You will eat this. The resources of your court are very carefully calculated.” Amitzas instructed me, standing behind my chair. “You require both food and the calibrated dosage of additives. You must have the correct dosage until it can be reduced to nothing. And if food is prepared for you, you will eat it.”
“I hear, 1st 2nd Amitzas.” His title was entirely correct but it bothered him so I repeated it as often as I dared.
After dinner that night I hobbled into the cabin and found, as I expected, the boy and the towels and basin. I turned to… Eforas this time… and said. “You will withdraw out of earshot, Mahid.”
He nodded, and said, “As You command Spark of the Effulgent light” and withdrew. I hated him. Mahid are so twisted that they could only see evil in the whole world… a perfect reflection of my progenitor, as they were supposed to be.
So I shut the door behind me and pulled my cleaned dressing gown down, holding it out to him. “Here. If you are going to serve me, I will have you dressed.”
His face went blank and pale and he made an abortive twitch of the head as he stopped himself from denying me. “I wish this. I am not my father who wanted you naked. Wear it.”
He took it from me and pulled it on slowly. It was big on him because he was such a skinny kid. He had to cross it over his belly almost around to his back on both sides and tie it with the belt to hold it. He nodded slowly, still silent.
“You can hand me the cloths, but I don’t want you to touch me.”
Another silent nod. Mercifully he wasn’t as dead in the eyes as… as… no, I would not think of that time. The boy would only look at me if I commanded him, I realized. I cleaned up, silent, and took the dressing gown back long enough to let him put the dirty water and cloths outside, knowing we were watched.
I got us both into the bed and covered, the pillow between us, before I said anything else. In the dark it was easier to talk to him. “I want to know what your name was before you were called Shefen-kas.”
He went like rock in front of me and I felt badly that I had asked him… but I would not address him by a name not his. It would help both of us, I thought. He shook so hard I had to hold him down.
“It’s all right. I won’t tell them. I swear. You have permission.” I repeated it a number of times before I realized he just couldn’t, yet. Then I said. “It’s all right. I’ll stop asking now. But you may think of it during the day. And if you can remember tomorrow, I’ll ask you again tomorrow night. You can tell me then.”
I felt that he managed a nod, so I let him be. I hurt in so many places I couldn’t sleep well anyway. I know he didn’t either, for a long time, but I still felt it when he finally managed. I was happy that he managed to speak to me the first time, equal to equal. I wondered if he was the boy who had been mine before. I would have to ask him, later.
I lay in the dark, wondering whether the city had fallen yet, whether my father in spirit had killed the father of my body.